Joy Along the Detour

Yesterday sweet Jerry drove me to Kaiser in Ontario for what is proving to be my last visit at the radiation department there. Dr. Ro examined me thoroughly, then declared I am doing well, and unless some unexpected event develops I do not have to return there. Yes! I do have scarring under my arm from the severe burns, but it does not bother me at all.

So life, precious life continues.

My life consists of much more than my cancer detour. A few days ago Jerry received this in the mail.

DSC_4243How blessed of God I am to be allowed to share in the ministry of my dedicated, godly husband. For more than 60 years he has carried the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Despite his exceptional accomplishments, including assuming the pastorate of two churches, and establishing another one, things have not  always been easy for him. His mother died when he was four, his dad when he was twelve. He was moved from place to place during the remainder of his childhood, living with older siblings, then living with a couple who had a dairy farm where he earned his keep by rising well before dawn to milk cows. Before he went to school each day, he delivered the milk to various places in the tiny town of Starks, LA. When he was a high school senior he went to live with his brother Bill who encouraged him to go to college after he finished high school. He followed that excellent advice, and four years later he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in the education field.

In 1994, he was struck by a drunk driver and was dead in the street. A lady revived him and he was taken to a hospital where he spent five months. He had almost unimaginable injuries including a broken neck, bleeding into his brain stem, broken hip, multiple other breaks, ruptured urinary bladder, bruised heart, kidneys…Doctors gave him little hope of living, then of walking, but if you saw him today you would never suspect he endured such a calamity. (The first book I wrote is an account of this event, entitled A Thousand Pieces. Available several places including Amazon. You may also order the book from me and I’ll ship you one.)

. . .and still he ministers. How blessed we are.

So despite the little cancer detour life continues, glorious life.

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Happy Posters on the Ceiling

Dr. Chan  is the doctor who ordered that I have a bone scan. Consequently, yesterday Jerry and I drove to Kaiser in Fontana where we parked at building 2, then took an elevator to the fourth floor where the Dexa Imaging Department is located. I was early for my 10:15 appointment, and they were quick to take me back where they weighed and measured me before leading me to the room where the test would be done.

IMG_0317 3In the early days of my diagnosis, my cancer was found to be an infiltrating ductal carcinoma with the further distinction of being hormone receptive. That means my cancer was feeding on the hormones my body produced. So, in addition to a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and 25 radiation treatments Dr. Chan prescribed a five-year regimen of a hormone blocker called Anastrozole. Unfortunately, one of the side-effects of this medication is the danger of bone weakening, leading to bone fractures. Thus Dr. Chan’s decision to have the density of my bones tested.

Dr. Chan highly regards hormone blocker medication as a very effective treatment for the type of cancer I have. He has mentioned this to me several times. “Out of all the treatments you are having for your cancer, this hormone blocker, which has fewer side-effects than any of them, is the most effective.” He went on to tell me that current literature suggests that in the near future it may be that women with my diagnosis may not need chemo, but that the hormone blocker could be all that is prescribed.

The bone density test was quick and painless. I lay flat on a table as a large, white imaging apparatus moved slowly over my body, measuring the density of my spine and of my hips.

I gazed upward, of course, and was delighted to see on the ceiling above me the posters I have pictured here. What a considerate act someone had thought of.  Someone then had hauled in a ladder, climbed up to the ceiling and with some sort of mastic had fastened those cheerful pictures and slogans. I loved it, and when the testing was finished I asked the technician if I could get my phone and take a picture. She smiled really big and said, “Yes!”

Yesterday was the first time I’ve looked at a ceiling to be reminded to hug, smile, and to take time for my family and friends, and that doing all those things contributes to my good health. How cool is that!

 

Radiation 25

The night before, I baked the goodies I would take. Yesterday morning I wrapped them in a festive way. I chose cards and wrote notes on them. One for the exceptional clerk who checked me in almost every day at the Kaiser facility; the other for the sweet crew that manned Linac # 3 where they tended me over a 5 week period, 5 days a week. Linac is the name of the radiation machine. Number 3 is the one to which I was assigned.

From the first day, the calibre of people whom I have encountered during this quite unexpected detour in my life’s road has amazed me. I have been treated not only professionally, but in loving ways, and with utmost care and dignity. Yesterday was no exception. When I gave the little gifts, the staff were so appreciative. We hugged–some of us more than once–and yesterday  I felt as though I was leaving friends when Jerry and I walked from the facility to our car in the parking lot. “I’ll miss you,” a couple of them said to me. “Maybe we’ll see each other in a grocery store or something like that,” Zack said almost shyly to me.

DSC_3775Because it was my last visit, I was scheduled to see my radiation oncologist, Dr. Ro. I was surprised when after he examined me he said I had significant radiation burns under my arm, so that he must prescribe a cream designed for severe burns. I will see him for a follow-up visit in about a month. For a couple of days I had noted a little discomfort, but didn’t think too much about it. Perhaps because my entire chest wall where I had the mastectomy is quite numb is the reason for my feeling very little pain. The danger is infection, Dr. Ro told me, indicating that we must stay “on top of it.”

“Come by here after you’ve seen the doctor,” the receptionist told me when I checked in. “We have something to give you.” When I returned to her desk, she smiled broadly and handed me this certificate. Wished me well, said she would miss me.

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Rebecca had wanted to be with her dad and me, but she could not, so it was only loyal and faithful Jerry and me who went to lunch at Lucille’s Barbecue to celebrate my last radiation treatment. With not one complaint, this dear husband of mine has driven me every day to my radiation treatments–80 miles round trip. How blessed, how very blessed I am.

Sweetest daughter, Rebecca, came to our home later in the day, bearing lovely flowers, a balloon, and a precious hand-written card.

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So. I’ve jumped another hurdle, and am looking ever upward and forward. God is so dear and precious to me. Has held me close during these challenging months, and blesses me more than I could possibly deserve. I am forever grateful.

Only Eight to Go!

My 17th radiation treatment this morning followed the pattern of the previous 16–no negative reactions at all! In the afternoon I had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Chan, whom you may recall, is my primary oncologist. My blood pressure was 128/67, my heart and lungs were clear, and my oxygen saturation was 99%.  He grinned when I told him how wonderful I am feeling.

We visited for a while, discussed a few things, then he stood, extended his hand, and said, “I won’t need to see you again until 6 months have passed. You have been a trooper!”

It was late afternoon when Jerry and I arrived home. He lighted the smoker on the back deck to grill the salmon we would be having for dinner. I seasoned the fish, then he placed it on a cedar plank and cooked it to perfection.

Fresh blackberries that needed to be eaten were in my fridge, so I engaged in a major indulgence and whipped up a blackberry cobbler.

DSC_3614DSC_3619It is said that cancer feeds on sugar, so I have made the commitment to drastically reduce my intake of the luscious white stuff. Notice I said, reduce, not delete!

So, because a bowl of warm blackberry cobbler is not quite complete without a scoop of vanilla ice cream, I indulged in a major splurge and tackled this . . .

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Only 8 to go, friends.  (Radiation treatments that is, not bowls of blackberry cobbler oozing with melting vanilla ice cream!)

Doctors and Number 15

Yesterday as I was leaving the room where the big machine is that blasts me with rays designed to kill any sneaky cancer cells that might be lurking in my body, Zack said to me, “Tomorrow is your 15th treatment and that calls for a visit with the radiation oncology doctor.” Sure enough, after today’s treatment I was directed down the hall, and eventually taken to an exam room where a PA came in, introduced himself, and examined the skin on my chest wall where I had the mastectomy, and under my right arm where cancerous lymph nodes were removed.

“Your skin is perfect,” he said after a quick look. “What are you using?”

“100% Aloe Vera cream,” I told him.

“Well, I see absolutely no problems. We’ll check your radiation site again after your last treatment.”

Yes!

I was happy for this great report, although not surprised, for it is evident that my skin is holding up very well against these powerful rays.

In the afternoon, I had a follow-up visit with my surgeon, Dr. Victor. When Marge, the very sweet nurse in that unit, checked my blood pressure, it measured 130/70. She turned and looked squarely in my face. “You look so good. You are doing exceptionally well.” When Dr. Victor came in, checked my site, and my other breast, he said, “Everything looks wonderful.”

Yes!

We were all smiling. Jerry was with me, and for quite a time Dr. Victor lingered, talked of his family and the vacation they are planning to Newfoundland in the near future, of our common interest in photography, of the joys of family . . .

“I’ll be following you for 5 years,” he told me. “See you next in 3 or 4 months.”

What a good day this has been. Number 16 tomorrow.

 

Prayer, the Ultimate Treatment

DSC_3265Since the first days of my knowing I had cancer, my family, my friends, and multiple church bodies have prayed for me. I am the first to acknowledge the sterling medical care I have had, but nothing compares to being touched by the Great Physician.

I’ve had hands laid on me in prayer in my home, in other’s homes, and in several different churches. On Monday when Jerry and I were ready to leave Rohr Park in San Diego after a great Memorial Day picnic, a group of ministers and others gathered about me and prayed for my healing.

How blessed. How very blessed I am.

Tomorrow morning I begin my radiation therapy. It comforts me to know many, many people will be covering Jerry and me in prayer.

No Chemo Curl

“You will lose your hair,” Dr. Victor said to me early on as we discussed side effects of chemotherapy. “But it will grow back,” he said with that kind, infectious smile of his.

Hair that grows back after chemo is sometimes a different color than before, and a formerly straight-haired girl may be blessed with what is called chemo curl. That curly hair that sprouts from her balded head usually doesn’t stay curly, I’m told, but eventually reverts to its former texture. Well, since I would be going through this little hair transition, I thought I would just order up a beautiful configuration for my head.

My paternal grandmother had glowing red hair. My dad had black curly hair. My husband has beautiful, curly wavy hair that looks better uncombed than mine does when I’ve just arranged it. You see, I have straight, stringy hair . . .well, that’s what I used to have . . .so I put in my order for red, curly hair. Sounds like a good choice, wouldn’t you say!DSC_2899I’ve mentioned before that most of my hair came out two weeks after my first chemo treatment, with a few hardy little bits hanging on these many weeks later. A few days ago, they all surrendered, and after a shampoo job, I no longer had any long hair. But already, my head is covered with new hair. Alas, I see no curls, nor any red sections. I have patches of white and what looks to be black. Guess I’ll resemble a skunk when it all arranges itself.

But check this out: Doesn’t that look like a little wave coming off in the back there!

My Tattoos

I have never secretly desired to have any part of my body tattooed, and certainly I have never voiced a hankering for such an intrusion onto this aging body of mine–actually I think the process is a bit on the silly side. Now, though I must tell you, that I have six tattoos! Five are on my chest area. One is on my neck. They are tiny little things, and if you look closely here you will see the black dot on my neck.

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Happened this way. Yesterday was my second visit to the Oncology Radiation Department at Kaiser Permanente in Ontario. After I had checked in and waited a very short time to be called, I was introduced to a darling young lady named Zac, who introduced me to two other women who will be involved with my treatments. After I had stripped to my waist and had donned a beautiful hospital gown, I climbed onto the table where overhead were machines that would photograph once again the area that is to be radiated. Both my arms were stretched over my head and I was asked not to move at all. They positioned my body a few times, and the picture taking began. A doctor analyzed and approved the film. The technicians then removed the red temporary markings on my body and began the tattoo job.

“May I choose butterflies or flowers or something like that?” I asked.

“No, afraid not. We only do one style here,” one of the techs replied.

There was little pain involved in the scenario. The worst part was not moving for a half hour or so, and besides I’m of the curious type and wanted to look around and see everything that was going on, but I could not. I did see a few reflections in one of the camera lenses. My face itched and I wanted desperately to scratch it, but I muttered to myself that I shouldn’t be a sissy . . .and I thought of persons who are paralyzed . . .

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Zac gave me a printed treatment schedule, along with guidelines to help me through the process. Beginning June 2, I will travel to Ontario (about an hour from our home) 25 times for radiation treatment. July 7th will be the grand finale. A party will be in order . . .and you’re all invited.

Radiation Treatments

I was able to report during my follow-up visit with Dr. Chan a few weeks after my last chemo treatment that I was feeling well, very well, in fact. I had regained all my strength. My energy level was high, and my spirits were soaring. Dr. Chan smiled, and I could tell that my words pleased him.

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He spoke again of my needing to be on a five-year regimen of hormone blockers, and as he spoke, he typed an order into the computer. On our way out I stopped at the pharmacy and picked up the first of what will be many bottles over such a long time. More on this segment of my treatment later.

Dr. Chan surprised me during this visit by saying he wanted to refer me to a radiation oncologist. Although he explained that his reasoning for this reference was that he wanted me to have access to every possible treatment, I gathered he might be leaning toward thinking I would not need to have radiation. So, on the day that Jerry and I drove to the Ontario Kaiser facility where such treatments are done in this area, I was feeling well and rather carefree, for I did not expect to hear what I did.

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His name is Dr. Ro, the radiation oncologist, to whom I was assigned. Kind and generous with his information, he spoke to us at length about this line of cancer treatment, and of my particular case. Should I have such radiation? The decision was mine, of course, but when Jerry pressed Dr. Ro, he offered his opinion that I should. And so I will.

There will be 25 of them, daily five days a week, for five weeks. Last Tuesday I had my first visit in the unit, where multiple pictures and X-rays were taken. My chest area is covered widely with red marks that will be used to guide the technician. On Monday, I go there again for further studies, permanent markings, and a full schedule of my treatments.

I’m not happy about this development, and at one point last week had the thought that I would call and cancel, but I quickly discarded that idea, for my thinking is that I want to do all I can to cure and/or prevent the return of this hateful disease. I’m feeling extremely well, and honestly don’t anticipate another round of weakness and other side effects. (Dr. Ro said the fatigue that comes with radiation treatments is not as severe as that I suffered from chemo.)

Anyway, I am up to it. Have God’s mighty hand holding my feeble one. Can do it. Am strong.. .besides that I’ve been working in my gardens, and they are beautiful. I’m sharing with you. Hope they bless your day.

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Last Chemo Day!

When Dr. Chan walked into the room where Jerry and I sat last Monday he said, “Congratulations!” Time for my last chemo treatment! He discussed my lab work, noting that everything was perfect, did a cursory check of my heart and lungs, and cleared me for my final treatment that was waiting just down the hall.

“We’ve had a few bumps in the road,” Dr. Chan recalled, “but we worked through them. You’re doing great.”

Shirley last chemo

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What an exceptional, dear friend is Holly. She calls, visits, brings flowers and other gifts–even once sent a cleaning crew to our home. She joined us in the waiting room, bearing gifts which she revealed once I was settled in my final chemo chair. She set a tiara on my head. In my hand she placed a significant, wonderful placard festooned with curly, streaming ribbons. Other patients smiled; a couple of them spoke congratulatory words to me.

Jerry Last Chemo day

My dear honey. Faithful, giving, and loving. How much harder this detour would be without his support and caring ways.

Three last chemo

Although an innumerable group has supported me through these weeks with prayers, gifts, visits, food, phone calls, cards, flowers, monetary gifts, and internet communication, it is these three whose faces I have seen at my chemo sessions. My only daughter, Rebecca, has spent weeks at our home, she calls every day, brings food, cooks meals, and attended every chemo session.

Nurses last chemo

Two of the four nurses who tended me during my sessions are pictured here. They helped me through some extremely tense, potentially dangerous, moments. Wonderful, dedicated people. During my hours at that last session, suddenly one of the nurses said, “Let’s do the final chemo dance,” and both of them circled about our area for a few minutes of celebration dance. Holly was quick enough to get a short video of it, but I can’t seem to load it here.                                     .Last chemo jerry, shirley, bekRebecca brought balloons to the party!

Jerry Last Chemo dayWe celebrated  with a meal at Cocos in Rialto. Believe it or not, I wore my tiara  and carried in my balloons and chemo sign. We clapped and laughed and planned more celebrations.

(Because I promised honesty paragraph: We had said our good-byes, each of us had taken to our cars, and as Jerry and I drove off the restaurant parking lot, I became violently ill. Had to circle back, park again at Cocos while I rushed to the bathroom. At home, I collapsed onto the couch.)

But here I am seven days later, though very weak, feeling much better. The tiara is on our dresser in my bedroom. Occasionally, I run my hand over its sparkly surface.