Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Put One Foot in Front of the Other

When Hanna asked me to do a ‘guest spot’ on the ALL Will Be Well blog, I was intimidated. Not only is their story beautiful and moving, so is the way they capture and relate it to the world. Further, people might be expecting a big name celebrity, like Patty or Wanda or Justin Timberlake, and be disappointed that it is merely Dan’s-friend-slash-Hanna’s-brother. However, given the large number of people who also fall into the category of “Dan’s friend,” I hope I offer a relatable viewpoint.

I borrowed this song from Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town for the title not just because it is an underrated Christmas masterpiece, but because it is literally what Dan has been doing. Step by step, shuffle by shuffle, he is moving around with his walker (which sports two miniature Notre Dame boxing gloves) with dexterity. Stairs are a big deal, standing up or sitting down requires a lot of effort, and simply traveling from one room to another is an event.

Figuratively, each small step also helps Dan and Hanna experience normal life, or at least the ‘new normal’ to which Hanna has referred in previous posts. For instance, the three of us and my wife, Kathleen, attended Hanna and Kathleen’s 10-year high school reunion two weeks ago. To give some perspective, what was a fun but not atypical night for me was Dan’s first beer and first time wearing jeans since before Labor Day. Dan and Hanna also got to enjoy family time with Joe, Sarah, Max, and Emma at Patty’s house. (Note: if you plan to stop by a Lyons family gathering to say hello, be prepared to have at least 2 helpings of a ‘light lunch’). They even participated in the Machalette Family Christmas Gift Exchange in Philadelphia and the Gabler family Christmas Eve Extravaganza, each of which is like cramming a three-day weekend into one afternoon. These are huge accomplishments considering that last year the couple was in Seattle learning the ins and outs of GVHD.

My best snapshot, though, into a day in the life of Hanna and Dan was on December 26th. I was planning to take Dan to Georgetown for a chemo treatment, but he developed a ‘minor’ cold the day before. There is no ‘minor’ cold when you are on chemotherapy because your immune system is weak, and their doctor advised that he skip the treatment and focus on fending off the virus. On doctor’s orders, we hung tight; however, that afternoon he developed a ‘slight’ fever of 100.3o. Likewise, there is no ‘slight’ fever, and their doctor suggested that if his temperature reached 100.5o, he should go to the ER. So that night we played the waiting game. Dan rested while we made dinner, watched a movie, and periodically went upstairs to hang out with him. Hanna monitored his temperature, knowing that two hundredths of one degree was all that separated a quiet, uneventful evening from an exhausting and tumultuous night in the emergency room. His fever broke overnight and ALL was well, but it underscored the “new normal” they experience on a regular basis.

Yet, this was just one day and it was still one step forward; one foot in front of the other. In this sense, I think Dan and Hanna approach each day as the next mile on the freeway. They use the rear view mirror to see only what hardships they’ve overcome, and they shine the high beams only when the road ahead is particularly dark. If it rains briefly, they wipe it away, and if the windows fog up…hey, that’s my little sister, Dan! At times, I imagine they feel as if they merged onto the freeway too long ago to remember and that the exit is still too far ahead. But rather than dwell on uncertainty, they focus on the next mile marker.

Hanna recently mentioned that she and Dan have become very adept at finding the silver lining, and at the risk of wearing out my welcome (Timberlake has already been contacted for the next guest spot), I’d like to close by giving my interpretation of this phrase. First, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper ain’t got a thing on Hanna and Dan. Second, silver linings connote a sense of “we’ll make the most of a bad situation,” and when I spend time with them, that is not what I observe. I see them completely compartmentalize the ebbs and flows of their crisis, giving full attention to both. Granted, most of us do not see them embrace the ebbs, but they do. A lot of us do witness the flows, and in those moments, they aren’t making the most of a bad situation, they’re simply living, laughing, and loving. When Dan and I discuss sports, laugh at oddly inappropriate innuendo on Family Feud, or get nostalgic about the days before cell phones, it is Dan being Dan. When Hanna and I play with our niece and nephew, trade new music suggestions, or develop a solution to the American education system, it is Hanna being Hanna. And when the two of them are together – be it marking his daily pill spreadsheet or blurting out answers to Jeopardy! – it is Dan and Hanna being Dan and Hanna. I’m sure that they never put their situation entirely out of mind, but their happiness is not tarnished by tomorrow’s consultation or next week’s biopsy.

And I think that is what makes them so amazing. Their happiness is real, palpable. It has a direct positive effect on anyone who experiences it. Almost every person I encounter (e.g., high school classmate, work colleague, frat brother of the guy whose cousin’s dentist tailgated next to us one time) asks about Dan and Hanna. The number of individuals who read this blog may be in the thousands, and while Mark Zuckerberg deserves some credit, I believe it is simply because Hanna and Dan inspire people, no matter what your degree of separation. Their blog is for us. Through their story, we get to witness love, faith, hope, courage, and compassion. As they gracefully and gingerly put one foot in front of the other, let’s hope it has a ripple effect on each of our lives in the New Year. And most importantly, ALL will be well in 2014.


  1. Awesome post, Colin! You all are amazing individuals and you have such a great family. Thank you for continuing to share your story, Dan and Hannah.

  2. Prayers for Dan and Hannah, and it is true Colin that you do not realize the thousands of people their story touches. God Bless, I say a prayer and think of you and your family often.

  3. Colin - you did not disappoint!!! The title could not have been more perfect! Before reading your explanation of the title, I was already humming the song and picturing Dan in the cartoon! Love and miss you all!

  4. You are right! I don't even know Dan and Hanna, I am a friend of Dan's Aunt Ann, but I feel I do as I follow their blog and am inspired by them! I feel for them when times are difficult, but am amazed, comforted and inspired by their attitude and fortitude. I thank them, and you, for sharing!

  5. I am very many degrees removed from Dan, Hanna, and your families - but I am so moved by all of you. The funeral was beautiful and I have been spending the last week or so reading this whole blog. Years ago I worked with a girl who went to school with Dan, and my husband worked with him years ago for one summer. I have been praying for you all every day and will continue to do so. The love you all share is the kind this world needs a great deal more of. Thank you for being shining lights of Christ's love in the midst of such darkness, and may God give you the grace you need to get up each morning in spite of this incredible loss. God bless you.