home of the brave – Joey, courage and cancer

It’s been almost a month since my last post.  And though I had planned, and even written, some entries to share (like my trip in May to the Amish with my sister Marcy and the day I spent making homemade strawberry jam with Joey), it didn’t seem right to post stories like that right now…. not with the story that has been unfolding in our lives for the last six weeks.

In May, at a routine appointment with her gynecologist, Joey’s doctor discovered something that concerned her.  She said there was a mass on Joey’s cervix and that she wanted do a biopsy, and would let us know the results when she got them back.   A few days later, Joey woke up from a nap with a message from the doctor, asking that we come in and talk with her that afternoon.  When we walked into the her office, the doctor was clearly upset.  Before she could even say the word “cancer”, her eyes welled up with tears and sobbing she said, “I’m so sorry Joey…”.   My wife bravely smiled and said, ” it’s gonna be okay, just tell us”.   And so she did.

Joey has cervical cancer.

It’s a strange thing when your doctor starts crying before you do.  Especially when it’s a doctor you don’t really even know.  This was only the second time we had ever seen her.  Strangely, the first time was when we were at the hospital after the birth of Indiana, and she is the one who took me out into the hall and told me that she believed that our baby had Down Syndrome.   I was completely caught off guard.   In the excitement and joy of Indy’s birth, none of us had even given her little almond eyes a thought.   But from that moment on, I knew our lives and our story would forever be different.  And once again, as we heard this sweet doctor say “it’s just not fair” through her tears… we knew that our lives and our story was taking another unexpected turn.

When we got home and the news finally sank in, Joey only worried about one thing.  It wasn’t “why did this happen to me” or “am I going to be okay”, or a hundred other questions that I would’ve had.  Joey only thought of our baby.  She cried and cried worrying about Indiana, and what this might mean to her… what if she couldn’t continue breastfeeding her, or will Indy’s sleep schedule be interrupted, or worse yet…what if she won’t get to watch this precious gift grow up?

I can honestly say that in the six months that we’ve been off the road and taking a break from the music business, I haven’t picked up a guitar once and Joey and I haven’t sang a single song together.  But when I came in the house that day and saw Joey holding Indiana in her arms, singing “I Need Thee Every Hour”… I went into the closet, pulled out a guitar and came and sat beside her.  For a half-hour straight, we held our little one and we cried and we sang these words over and over.

I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain
Come quickly and abide, or life is in vain

I need Thee, O I need Thee
Every hour I need Thee
O bless me now, my Savior
I come to Thee

 And then, like turning off a faucet,… we said a prayer, dried our tears and decided to put our trust in Him.

Joey surgery day-12

A few days later we were in another office seeing a gynecology/oncology specialist in Nashville and he told us that though the mass was already 4 cm and growing aggressively, we had caught it early.  He recommended that Joey have a radical hysterectomy right away to remove the cancer and surrounding areas.

Joey surgery day-6

And so, this past Friday, we loaded up our four-month-old baby, and along with our older girls and Joey’s mama… drove to Centennial hospital in Nashville.  And soon after, my brave little wife, kissed us all goodbye and smiled as they wheeled her away to surgery.

Joey surgery day-2

About 6 hours later, they wheeled her out of the recovery room and though she was still groggy and in some pain, she waved to us and smiled again and we walked with her as they wheeled her to her room.

Joey surgery day-8

The next morning about 11 am, she got to come home to our farmhouse.

It’s been five days now, and Joey’s getting stronger every day.  Her swelling is going down and spirits continue to go up.  We had a follow-up appointment with the oncologist yesterday and he said that the margins and the lymph nodes he removed came back clean, so there’s no more cancer in her body and she won’t need chemo or radiation.   There in the waiting room after the appointment, we held each other and our baby, and we cried once more.

I heard a preacher tell a short story one time about God and a tandem bicycle.  I’m reminded of that story today.  It’s only 3 minutes long, but the lesson has stayed with me for years.



Yes, it has been quite a year for us so far.  In the past six months, God has taken us places we never dreamed we would go.  It’s been terrifying and thrilling all at the same time.  We never know what tomorrow will bring…none of us do.  But what an incredible journey life is.  We are just going to continue to trust Him and hold to each other and… pedal, pedal!



an Indiana morning

Indiana sleeps in Hopie’s old room, next to ours, in a little wooden cradle that someone made and gave to us at one of our concerts.  She’s 3 months old now and cooing and smiling and filling our hearts and home with more love than we could’ve thought possible.

Most mornings when she wakes, she just quietly plays with her hands and waits for us come pick her up and start the day.  A few days ago, I grabbed my camera to capture the first few minutes together of a new mommy and the baby daughter she never thought that she would have.

I think this is what love looks like…


remembering Heidi’s wedding

I can’t believe that it’s been two years since our daughter Heidi’s wedding day.  They got married on May 26, 2012.  She wanted to have it here at the farm and chose a spot in front of a half-finished barn that we’d been building as the setting for the ceremony.  Her fiancé Casey was a wonderful young man that she was crazy about and we were proud to be welcoming him into our family and also to see his sweet family welcoming Heidi into theirs.  I don’t think I realized how organized and thoughtful Heidi really could be until a day or two before the wedding, when all of her bridal party and a bunch of friends arrived to help setup for the big day.  Heidi not only had thought through every detail… she took special love, and care to find or hand-make everything.  And she did it all on the small budget that she and Casey had.

Casey and Heidi-1

When the day arrived and the ceremony started, the weather and the evening was perfect.  I’m not sure how many people were there, but it seemed like a lot.  All seated on hay bales as the sun was setting.  Our longtime family friend Manuel designed her wedding dress and she looked so beautiful.  Some of her friends performed Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling In Love” as the guests were seated and I wrote a song for her that I sang.  It was probably the toughest song I’ve ever sang.

The day they got married, we didn’t really know Casey that well yet.  We liked him a lot, but in the two years since, we’ve come to love Casey deeply.  He’s a character, like myself.  He’s not afraid to go his own path.  He is passionate about his art and life and he’s passionate about his bride Heidi.  It’s been so neat to watch their love for each other grow since their wedding day.  With his dreams of painting and her dreams of music, they’re perfect for each other.  More than anything, you want your children to experience real love.  And I think Heidi has that with Casey.

During the last couple of years while we were filming our tv show, it was important to me to try to capture important moments in our lives.  I’m so thankful that we captured this one, so we can relive it forever.  Joey, Hopie and I watched it together today with tears in our eyes.


a breakfast story

A major part of the homesteading that we’re doing this year, is living off our land and knowing first-hand exactly where most of the food that we’re eating is coming from.  And in the last few weeks, not a meal goes by that I don’t see my wife make a trip out to the garden a few minutes before, to pick lettuce or spinach or radishes to be part of the lunch or dinner that she’s making.  And every morning of course, starts with a trip to the henhouse for fresh eggs.

But this morning when I came in from feeding the cow and doing my daily chores (and drinking coffee in my barn while I read USA Today), I walked in to the kitchen to the familiar sound of bacon frying in a skillet… and the not so familiar view of a live chicken sitting in our sink.

breakfast story-6

It turns out that one of our hens was sick.  Joey had heard some noise when she was bathing Indy and looked outside and to see one of our hens huddled in a corner of the pen as other hens were pecking at her.  The hen was what Joey called “egg bound”, and she was worried about her.  So there she was at our kitchen sink with rubber gloves and olive oil…cleaning out the mama hen’s backside.

breakfast story-4

I watched for a minute or two, then decided that maybe I should just concentrate on turning the bacon (and taking pictures) and let Joey and the hen have their private lady-time together (I felt the need to protect my child-like concept of the eggs magically appearing in the roosting boxes each morning).

A half-hour or so later, as my wife and I sat at the table, eating our breakfast… a chicken stared at us from the sink (Joey had her bottom soaking in warm water to soothe her).  Her little beak was almost smiling.

breakfast story-3

Sometimes we hear from people who aren’t big fans of the fact that we raise chickens for eggs and some also for meat.  But today watching and listening to Joey talk to and care for her sick hen… it was easy to see that long before the day comes when my wife “harvests and serves” her chickens, she “loves and serves” them daily.


my uncle Leo

My mother’s cancer has been progressing and hospice has been called in to help manage her pain.  I’m pretty sure Mom’s been in alot of pain the last few weeks, but most of the time, we never know it.  Other than the cancer, and the hospice and the pain… somehow, Mom’s pretty much her normal self.  Always smiling, always happy and positive.  A month or two back, Mom asked me to film this season of her life and so I have been.  Every few days, I show up at her house with my camera and follow her around or we sit and talk awhile, and I capture it on film.  Forever.  Someday, when our minds have a hard time recalling certain things about someone we love, the camera will remember.  I love that.

My uncle Leo came to visit my mother just before Easter.  There were 12 kids in mom’s family, and he’s her oldest brother.  With all the fear and hurting that cancer can bring, when Uncle Leo comes to visit, he only brings love and joy with him…that and a set of golf clubs.  He is filled with life and you can’t help but smile back when you see his big Irish grin or listen to the silly jokes he tells.  He’s nearly 80 years old now, but in some ways he reminds me of a little boy, mischievous and filled with wonder.  That never goes away I guess, no matter how old we are.  Although I knew he came this time specifically to spend precious time with his little sister, selfishly, I love when Uncle Leo comes to visit too.  My brothers, sisters and I get to sit near them and hear stories about our grandparents, Maddie and Leo Carnahan Sr, back in the old days in Michigan when they were all young.  Stories about the great snows they had growing up and how they would go swimming in the great lakes and about the fire that burned their house to the ground and burned one horrifying night into the minds forever.  Uncle Leo and mom never smile when they talk about the fire.  It happened in the 1950’s but they seem to remember it like it was yesterday.  Like cancer, it brings pain with it, but a scarier pain I think…the kind that is in your heart but the doctors can’t see.  My sister Marcy found some newspaper clippings one time from back then… and there on the front page was my mother as a little girl, and Uncle Leo at 18 and their brothers and sisters just after the big fire.  My mother is still afraid of fire to this day.  When we grill out with her at her house on Sundays, we have to put the barbecue grill far away from her patio… she doesn’t want to take any chances.  I can’t blame her, after hearing what they lived through in the fire and what their little brothers Patrick and Timmy didn’t.

I was thrilled to see Uncle Leo’s little white pickup truck in mom’s driveway when I came over to visit one day.  I’m not a golfer, but I am a lover of my Uncle Leo.  And since he had his clubs, I I told him I would go play nine holes with him.   So, there we were on a Wednesday afternoon… me (no they didn’t let me where my overalls on the course), Uncle Leo and my nephew Mikel – riding in golf carts, shooting triple bogeys, and making a memory that will last a lifetime.  Unfortunately, my memory isn’t what it used to be, so once again, I brought my camera along… so it could remember this day.  Forever.