Thursday, February 26, 2015

Last Day of Chemo Notes

Forgive my frequency in posting, I just have to tell you about my day on Wednesday. I hope the executives at the hospital understand how important their "lower level" employees are to quality of care. I registered for my Echo test and the registrar was so kind, compassionate, and, well, fun. She encouraged me to try Candy Crunch on my iPhone. I told her I did not do any games on the iPhone. She said, "Oh, you don't have to worry about addiction. They shut you off after 5 minutes and won't let you on for another hour". I'm still not going to spend my time gaming, but her smile, enthusiasm, and joy made my day and I did not let her know that she hadn't sold me on the idea! Then, I went down to lab and my Echo technician was above and beyond. She couldn't seem to talk without smiling at the same time. Do you know people like this? Don't you want to be with them? I tell you her humble life builds me up. She has been a medical assistant (a 7 week course) for 22 years. She got certified as a cardiovascular technician giving her the ability to do Echos all day long. She taught me what she was going to do and what it would tell the doctor and it was better than most instructions I've gotten from the professionals. She was just in love with her job, and obviously put her whole self into it assuring my comfort by asking about the room temperature and other simple but patient focused questions all the way through.  No matter what the results of this test, they will be easier for the cardiologist to relay them because my experience was one good memory. It was the face of Christ meeting me along the journey. Both of these ladies. My blessings.

Then I went to my infusion. They have created such an environment of caring. Kindness and gentleness exudes. I decided that even though I'm coming in and getting care from these nice nurses through December, I would "ring the bell" since this was the last day of that nasty chemo. It is a tradition for the bell to be rung when you are finished with your chemo. Everyone in earshot gives their congratulations. I admit I worked too hard at shutting my floodgates. I could have made quite a scene with tears. I didn't fight my nature, though, I fought the tears, faced the wall, and put my coat on, having regained my composure enough to say goodbye and thank you to the nurse. I wish I'd let them out. I was full of joy to my inner core. It is done and I'll bet at least one of the patients would have identified with my release. Still working on losing the control.

Here's me a moment before ringing the bell. I'd noticed the heaviness of the metal and was a bit afraid of disturbing the quiet.

And me a moment later when it really did shake the infusion department!

Later that evening I checked my inbox and thanks to Susan Wilbacher, a sister in the People of Praise in Tampa, Florida, we have a link to the movie. Here's the secret I have to share: my memory stinks. It's been bad, but chemo made it worse...temporarily let's hope. So, Dom Deluise is in the movie, but it is Burt Reynolds who was saved after a threat of suicide. The movies name is "The End". Take a peak.

I also wanted to tell everyone that I have a new appreciation for the corporal work of mercy called "visiting the sick" since having a chance to see it from the other side. Last Friday Anne Brewer came over. We had such a nice time talking. It was so invigorating and we didn't talk much about cancer - well, not from my point of view anyway. I was so renewed that I was exhausted and slept for 2.5 hours when she left. It was well worth it! Thanks to all who have stopped by. I hope I take that lesson with me into the future.

For all those who fasted for me, I'm done with chemo so take a break! Everyone...take a break with me! I have this weekend to deal with but I am in the mood to celebrate! How you match this up to Lenten sacrifices, I'll have to announce in my next post. I just don't know quite yet. But I'm one celebratory girl right now.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hello friends and family! I've had an interesting week. We had a Come and See Weekend for Campus and I knew I would hate to miss any part of it. I made it through Thursday night and Friday night - which is common after my infusion. Then Saturday came and I felt bad. I felt bad all day. Then, 15 minutes before the start of dinner, just when I was prepared to give up attending, I asked Walt to pray over me. All my aches and pains stopped and didn't come back until Sunday morning. Thank you Jesus! That was above and beyond and I sure do appreciate it! We had a delightful time with three visiting students and Terry and Alicia Cassell, friends from our Northern Virginia days. It was delightful and fun even though my team didn't win the game. Apparently that was too much to ask.

People not interested in hearing medical talk don't read the next paragraph. You know who you are. (So do I.)

On Monday we met with the surgeon. She's a real scientist/researcher type. Between her and the research radiologist, we now have a headful of statistics. There's a 20% chance of mortality in 15 years, 30% recurrence rate, 20% chance of lymphedema for the rest of my life if I have a dissection of the axilla (armpit), something less than that for permanent impairment of the shoulder and permanent numbing of the armpit. There's a 7% chance of needing a second surgery because the margins weren't clear on post op pathology, and a 2% chance of needing a second surgery because the post op pathology found cancer in the axilla. These are the statistics I remember and might even have one of them wrong, but it shouted to me that this thing isn't over now, or after surgery, or in the summer when the radiation is over. Of course, I knew that follow up care was years out, but this made it all very real. So I quietly emoted for awhile. I talked to the Lord. Then I listened to Walt who can not contain his joy that today is my last chemo. And, of course, he's right. I know I don't like chemo and today will be the last round. I will rejoice! The statistics are good to know to be informed, but we are humans and need to live one day at a time. Today is a day to be thankful that one uncomfortable phase is ending.

Come on back you non-medical people!

This week I finished the best book I've read with cancer (thank you, Marge Connolly). It's called Lessons from the School of Suffering. Written by Rev. Jim Willig, it is his journey through cancer to the glory of heaven. Tammy Bundy wrote the last chapter after his death. This amazingly real account of a Christian dealing with pain and fear moved me. His diagnosis from the beginning was worse than mine - he had kidney cancer metastasized in the lung at first diagnosis.  He felt free to ask the Lord, "Why couldn't they have found this before it went to the lung?" This and, "I thought you needed priests? What could be the benefit of ending my life decades before I'm done with my ministry? How could this be your plan?" There is so much mystery in suffering and death. His ability to say exactly what he was thinking and feeling to the Lord was just what I needed to hear. He was a good holy priest, yet he struggled with the problem of suffering. He would never have chosen cancer, and yet it is how he gave his greatest testimony in the end of life. We don't believe God gives us these bad situations, but we know he could miraculously cure them if he so desired. I can only think that our death is so different than how most humans think of it. We should remember now and then that we move from the imperfect to the perfect. Enough with this resistance to change stuff! We need to trust that God's ways are perfect and they often are not our ways! Anyway, Fr. Willig said throughout his suffering he was never alone because Christ was there with him. I know that feeling. He felt he learned over and over again this lesson on how to live:

  • Be humble
  • Trust God completely
  • Surrender everything to God
We don't need cancer to learn this, but Fr. Willig admitted he was learning it more deeply because he was in "the school of suffering". During his two years of fighting cancer, he came up with three new goals on what he wanted to do with his life. I want to join him and use them seriously to evaluate my life into the future: 
  • Love God as much as possible
  • Help others love God as much as possible
  • Love others as much as possible
What could be better than this? I thank God for Fr. Willig's life and death that has brought me closer to the heart of the Father. It has given me encouragement to come forward with my fears and my questions so I can experience the real surrender of those things as I leave them at the foot of the cross.  Prayer really does change things, even when it isn't how we expect the change to be.  

And so today, I have decided to take all the statistics and summarize them into one sentence. Stuff happens. I have a life to live one day at a time and that includes the three goals above and I get there by living the three lessons above. Cancer or not, that's a great life in growing in unity with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  So, we leave for the hospital in a little while. I have an ECHO test this morning to see if the chemo has damaged my heart. I hope it hasn't. I don't want the breathlessness I have to be permanent. Come, Lord, hear my prayer! Then we'll go have my LAST CHEMO! Yay!

I remember a movie, some older person with a memory can comment and give me the name, where Dom DeLuise was almost drowned in the ocean. He starts out in the deep waters screaming, "Save me God and I'll give you all my money!" As he starts getting control of the situation he changes the prayer to a 50%, than a thousand, and then he is washed ashore and thanks God. I don't remember if he then takes credit for how he saves himself, but that is what a lot of us do, isn't it? Well, I pray this does not happen to me. I am ending chemo and it was brutal. Though there are pagans I'm sure who get chemo, I do not know how they endure it. I had God at my side every moment and I am eternally grateful. I know how time can erase the intensity of emotion. Oh Lord, let me never forget the loving way you brought me through this. I want to be forever grateful.  

So I should be feeling better and better for the next three weeks. Then, I get surgery on the 18th. I'll post before that. I have a lot of thoughts on surgery :  )

Have a good Lent. Lean in to Our Lord's great sacrifice. It is awesome that he suffered willingly out of love for us and obedience to the Father. A love we don't deserve has been given to us. Blessed be his name forever! 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Rom 5:3-4

I am counting on the verse on the title line being true. I always need to look at the benefits of what I'm doing. Of course, the main benefit of chemo is that it kills cancer. Da. I guess that would be a good thing to remember. I wish that was enough to help me out when I'm not liking the side effects. It somehow is not. So here's the verse from Romans and I'm leaning into it this week: "More than that we rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." May it be done to me according to this word!

I am finishing up a week of praying for those who are suffering with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. You know I'm the lucky one. I have cancer. People hear it and get nervous. Compassionate. Maybe a little scared. Your love has been lavished on me with gifts and cards and more. But the fatigue I feel as a side effect of chemo makes me feel like this:

(Thanks Cousin Doris for the picture. I related to it immediately.) But I have a light at the end of this tunnel. I am going to be DONE with chemo in 2 more weeks - maybe a bit longer to rid myself of the side effects. But think of the poor women with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. (Yes, they are mostly women). They probably feel like this dog above while the doctors can't decide what it is. Does it belong in psychology or endocrinology or immunology? Now they are arguing over changing the name of the disease. Meanwhile the women are losing years of their life. I am relatively sure their kitchen wall isn't covered with cards or their houses with fresh flowers and candy. Here's two beautiful arrangements from the NOVA Service Project Team and the sisters' household in Allendale Christians in Mission this week:

I am so blessed. Thanks everyone. And these flowers do cheer me up. I want to see the same happening for those who have Chronic Fatigue. I prayed for the right researchers to be moved to conquer this thing. Moved to find the right answers and help those suffering to find their lives again. Please join me. It's a worthy cause. I'm sure of it. If you've ever felt fatigue, you know you can't just make this stuff up!

I am reading a cancer meditational (I may be making this term up). Several Christian authors who have been through cancer treatment wrote short daily meditations. One of my favorite authors, Barbara Johnson, wrote "In this life, pain is inevitable but misery is optional. Purposefully choose to be joyful." How wise is she? You go Barbara! I don't think Barbara's with us anymore, but I'll bet she was joy filled to the end. It is a purposeful choice and I choose it.

Tomorrow Lent starts. I have two books to read: one on suffering and one on healing. I look forward to a time of growing closer to the Lord and understanding better what I can learn from this experience. During Lent, I am always amazed to meditate on Christ's passion and death and consider the love he has for all of us. The ultimate sacrifice that brought us life.

Walt and I meet my radiologist tomorrow after my treatment and learn more about the radiation I will receive. Next Monday we will meet the surgeon and finalize all that. I get an ECHO that week to check to make sure my heart hasn't been damaged by the drugs being infused. That's kind of nice (tongue in cheek here). I'm moving forward in this treatment plan. I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I do think about these next two infusions and the fatigue they will bring. Remember in Princess Bride when they propped Westley up in a wheel barrow to storm the castle because really he was "almost dead"? That's how I feel somedays. But God loves me through it and I will end up with character and hope (Romans 5). Thanks for loving me. Thanks for your cards, gifts, notes, messages, comments, and "likes". You will never know how much it means to me. You are all instruments of God's love to me. Glory!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Happy First Date Anniversary, Walt!

Just a little aside from cancer, because life does march on:

On February, 13, 1968, also a Friday, this man (then a boy) asked me to sit next to him at a high school basketball game. In 2011, Dorothy Ranaghan led a Women’s Retreat in Indianapolis for the People of Praise. She said married people would start to look more like each other as time went on and they shared more love together.  I’m sure she had no idea…

Thanks for that first date 47 years ago Walt! Grateful doesn’t begin to cover it! I love you!

And thanks to the NOVA (that's Northern Virginia branch of the People of Praise) men and women who are serving us in Indiana this week. Loved the reunion last night! Love gathering with my old and new friends!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

2/3 Done and Ready for Triple Dose

I’m writing now at 2am before I go in for the infusion so I won’t be side tracked from my duty of numbing myself before leaving for my appointment. I don’t want to be a slow learner and make the same mistake twice. I’m awake anyway, so it’s nice to do something. So, I had a bad night as I wrote last week. Then I slept awhile and awoke with a bounce in my step and no symptoms at all of being a cancer patient. That’s right. Zero side effects. Energy booming. It lasted for 18 hours. I was beside myself with joy. I exercised, Walt and I went out to lunch and I attended the campus team meeting with the ability to lean in to conversations instead of thinking the whole time, “Maybe I should just excuse myself and go to bed?” I tell you there is nothing in this world like feeling good and being healthy. And then I thought, could I be a quick learner in this area? When I’m done with treatment – healed of cancer – could I remember everyday when I wake up and feel good that it is a special gift? I want to start each day with, “Thank you Lord!” and then consider how I can use my time that day to make the world more the place God always meant it to be. There must be a grace for this and I want it. I never want to go back to the way I was. You’d think we deserved a healthy life as if we didn’t notice the human condition. Well, wake up and smell the coffee people!

The symptoms came back Thursday night, but the joy of having a reprieve lasted quite a bit longer. Then my sister Laurie arrived for the weekend. She’s become so dear to me this year. She visits often and distracts me so well. We walked through the Catholic bookstore and then Carson’s, the local department store. When checking out, the cashier told us about her and her husband’s 10 years of being cancer free. She was treated at the same place I’m being treated. This “club” I’ve joined is full of wonderful people who want to encourage you. I love it. Yes. I just said I love being in a cancer club. But, do you know what I mean? Without the cancer, I never would have known such people and such interactions were taking place.  I’m telling you, there is so much good in the world.

When Laurie went back home the start of the week went fast. On Monday, my hat-hair arrived. This is hair that is on a line of Velcro. It came with a headband that also has Velcro. I can wear it under any hat. Today I picked up my wig. The wig has a name (they all do it turns out). Mine is Barbie. Cute, right? So now I have scarves, turbins, hats, hats with hair, and a wig. Who needs hair anyway? I feel more creative with a head to dress everyday!

I am getting a drug reintroduced later today that I had with my first infusion that didn’t go so well. The doctor is thinking this drug is not the one I reacted negatively to. Let’s hope (and pray) she is right.  I am officially 2/3 of the way done with my chemo treatment and the surgeon and radiologist are setting up appointments to get the operation and radiation going. Come on folks. Let me enjoy the end of one phase, please? I don’t want to think about surgery and radiation quite yet! But time marches on. Today I’ll have three drugs: Taxol, Herceptin, and Perjeta. May they do what they were meant to do and not land me back in the hospital. Amen.

I want to end with a note of gratitude. This is a poem given to me by my sister-in-law, Gina. Gina’s a sweetheart. I thought I was Queen of Efficiency until Gina joined our family. She never forgets your birthday and gets her Christmas cards done by Thanksgiving. I think I’ve even received my Christmas card on Black Friday. It was not surprising, then, when hers was the first gift I received after my diagnosis. It was a wonderful box of necessities for chemo patients (like blanket, water bottle, and chap stick) and it came with this magnet. I have it on the refrigerator right over the water spout so I can read it often. Thanks Gina! I can tell you all now first hand: THESE WORDS ARE TRUE!

What Cancer Cannot Take From You

It cannot take away your faith,

Shatter your hope, or lessen your love.

It cannot destroy true friendship,

Invade the soul, or take away eternal life.

It cannot conquer your spirit.

So what’s the big threat anyway? Have a great week my loved ones. Thanks for walking through this with me.  By the way, grandchildren Darla and Mary are better. Ah, the blessings of a youthful body.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Powerful prayer for Action Summer

Well, each week I've prayed for a different intention as I offer up any negative effects of the cancer and its treatment. As always, children and grandchildren. The third intention is the only one that changes. This week it's the staff and interns for Summer Action. I'm predicting a great year. Here's why, and I don't really understand the power behind "offering things up", but I've seen the effects of it so I don't need to understand. I'm sure there's a plethora of books on the subject and someday I might read one. Right now, I just use the power.

So, the story is, that at 10am yesterday I thought to myself, "Ok, it's time to pack the bag for the treatment, have a light snack, and put the lidocaine on. Lidocaine is in the family of nocacaine that you get at the dentist. It's a topical analgesic - cream based. I rub it on my port and in 45 minutes I am NUMB. The nurse puts a needle into my tender chest wall and all I feel is a little pressure. As I've said before: I love my port. Unfortunately,  a three step instruction was too long for this 61 year old chemo brain! So I packed, had a piece of toast, looked at the computer, and said, "Good time to write a post." An hour later at the infusion center the registrar said, "Do you have a port?" Oh, darn! Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Breathe in. Good for my kids, my grandkids, and Action Summer. Bad for me. I just took a deep breath and knew there was nothing to do now. It was too late to even take 2 tylenol. I was going to feel what it's like to have a needle pushed into my chest at a 90 degree angle. And I will not flinch. Will not flinch or make facial contortions! And so I did. It stung. It radiated. It wasn't the end of the world, but I am sure it's worth one great staffer! Now it's 1:48am and I'm up with abdominal pain.  So, more medicine, small snack, and maybe another staffer. Think about it. You may be the one. Or your child. Great talk for the dinner table. If you are interested in working or serving for Action Summer (high school - 100+ yr old) - a great outward work for the People of Praise to the poor people on the Southside of Indianapolis, IN, and Allendale, LA, send Walt an email at  I've been praying for you! You can follow the planning at Indy Action Summer 2015 on Facebook. Allendale has last year's posts at  Allendale Action Summer 2014. In Indy, Staff and interns will arrive on June 8th and Team 1 arrives June 15th. Camp closes on July 24th and then we'll 
have several days of take down. Allendale leaders all work outside the POP, so I don't think their dates 
are set yet, but they usually start a wee bit later. It's going to be hard work and a blast!

Oh, and I didn't have time to edit yesterday morning's edition before posting, so it has a couple minor changes. I hadn't named my longest friend, Susan LoDestro Nelson, who used the word onerous in here latest email and I wanted to change that. It's really a blessing to have one friend who's kept in contact, who knows all the neighborhood and school people from the early years. And she was fun then, and she's fun now. A real keeper. My mother will probably read this so I can share one secret today: Susan had no "bed time" when I slept at her house. I'll bet I spent more nights there then we did at mine. We slept in the den and watched movies till we fell asleep. And, of course, ate whatever we wanted from the kitchen. At the time, I thought this was heaven. I'm a movie lover then and now!

One more thing. In praying for my grandchildren, I have 2 granddaughters sick this week. One bad cold and one pneumonia. That's half my granddaughters and it's the young half so being sick is not something you can rationalize! Pray for them. They are so adorable.

 Darla in Colorado Springs

Katie with Mary, from Dexter, MI

Going to go try sleeping again! Thanks for the prayers! 

On your mark, get ready, and go!

I come to write to you this morning at a low point. I leave in less than an hour for Taxol #6 and I'm still feeling #5. This must be what they mean by "accumulative effects". I'm tired. I couldn't exercise this morning. But I want to go and get my dose because I can put up with anything for ONE MORE MONTH and then I'll be through chemo. So praise the Lord I've only a month left! Praise the Lord you are going to pray for me today when you read this! Praise the Lord for my favorite scripture of the week, this time from Denise Hurley: Matt 28:20 "I am always with you". She's in the sisterhood of the People of Praise and a cancer survivor. She is becoming a close friend through her sharing with me during this time. Thank you Jesus. You willingly suffered. I can't get over it.

Let's see. Good things about this week. My dear husband, Walt, got his first break from serving me nonstop. He drove up to take Mary out for her birthday and had some George time. He was gone about a minute when I went to refill my water bottle and couldn't get the cap off. Weakness of the hands is a side effect of chemo and I thought, "Wow, what else am I going to learn about being alone for a day?" Well, it wasn't bad but I've never lived alone and hopefully won't ever. When I sat down to eat my dinner and prayed, "Bless us oh Lord..." I'm just born for household life. What can I say. Sharing bread is life-giving to me. I don't want to eat alone. So, Walt came back refreshed and I was so glad for him. Then, of course, the SuperBowl this year was quite the exciting finish and there was lots of screaming in our tv room. All Walt, but it filled the room. I'm not much on sports. I could appreciate the intensity of the situation, though.

Then a friend from the past, Jill Rolf, sent me a card with a horse on it! Now that's very upbuilding. Someone's reading and taking this stuff in. The horse is now proudly hung in the kitchen and if you don't know what I'm talking about, you'll have to go hit "previous posts". Thanks Jill.

One of my well educated friends, Susan Nelson who we think was in grammar school with me) sent her good thoughts to me as the chemo got more "onerous". I thought that is a really good word. If you can't hit define on this post, a good definition is "oppressively burdensome". Two cancer survivors just said to me, "It's hard, but you'll get through." Amen sisters! I will! Let's get on with it!

Before I leave, I was asked to do an exercise in gratitude this week. I put the timer on for 3 minutes and here's what I got: I am thankful for

  • seeing how easy it is to be loved when I needed it. 
  • learning how God is really there all the time. 
  • Walt and I'm amazed at how well he does my role! 
  • for my daughters: their unique and unrepeatable selves and how they reach out to me. 
  • that I don't have to worry anymore if I'll get cancer. I got it and it's not the end of the world! And, as Walt says, the end of the world will look very different. 
  • Extended family and how they support me. 
  • My friends and loved ones near and far. 
  • To God  who reigns over all things. 
  • all the people who chose to take care of cancer patients for their career!

That's it. Gotta go get loaded with poison to kill this cancer!