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.

Of Warm Blankets

At the Kaiser Center in Ontario where I have my radiation treatments, just outside the dressing room, where this morning I donned the outfit for my 20th treatment, there is a stainless steel windowed cabinet that houses warm blankets. Frequently it is chilly inside this department, so a warm blanket has often been a comfort to me (and to many others, I feel sure) to wrap around my shoulders or spread over my legs or arms during my actual treatment.

I considered warm blankets today as I waited. I reckoned with the understanding that sometimes warm blankets are not of wool or cotton, not something I might hold in my hand, but otherwise . . .

DSC_3108.jpgPerhaps a bud from my garden, a single stem from the florist, or a dandy stick or stone found along my morning walk.

DSC_3082Eye contact with a stranger as she lifts her head. A smile.

DSC_3022A word of approval. A nod of understanding.

DSC_2994Hand on a shoulder. Whisper in an ear, “I’m here if you ever need me.”

Today during my cancer treatment time,  I reflected on warm blankets.

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.

 

Lessons in the Weeds

At Kaiser this morning, they took me in early for my 14th radiation treatment, so before noon we were back in Crestline, and since it was so early we decided to go to the lodge and have lunch with our senior friends there. We were more than half an hour early, so while Jerry signed us in and found seats, I would take a few pictures. I took my camera out of its bag. “I’ll snap a couple of pictures, then be right in,” I told Jerry.

I learned lessons during those few minutes this late morning and want to share them with you.

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I walked across a small field. Shaded by lofty oak trees, the land lay in shadowed darkness, so dense in some directions that I was unable to discern the objects that made up the short distance toward the creek bed. Then my eyes were drawn to a shinning pattern, for in the middle of the unlit, dusky regions glowed this round of glorious light.

This first lesson is obvious. In the midst of darkness, sorrow, and gloom, there always can be found a packet of light, a spot of joy, a round of glory. God is its source, and when we find ourselves frightened, surrounded by dreadful circumstances, unsure of anything, then is the moment to look about us . . .and find the light!

I sat down on a small bridge area and watched. Waited. Among the weeds little bugs were jumping, and as I looked closely, I saw they were lady bugs. I didn’t have a really fine lens with me, for this morning I had decided to take my oldest lens out of my camera bag, and use it for the day. So with my humble 18-55 Nikon kit lens, I photographed this fine lady. (Are there men lady bugs? Hmm . . . guess so or we wouldn’t have any baby lady bugs, would we?)

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The second lesson was also obvious to me, for as I stared, focussed, and refocussed on this tiny bug, I saw with comprehending eyes its struggle to reach the top of this drooping weed. She fell more than once as a small wind blew the plant back and forth. But she persevered, and when I left her she had neared the top.

So, as I walk my cancer detour, I too will persevere and will pick myself up if I fall. . .and if I do I will climb again.

And you? We’re all faced with disappointments, challenges we didn’t expect . . .but also with opportunity to fight more, seek the light, and climb higher. Onward!

 

Radiation and Celebrations

When I learned that Gentry’s high school graduation day would be toward the middle of my radiation treatments, I was not sure I would be able to attend, for the threat of side-effects, and especially of extreme fatigue was on my mind.

DSC_3559However, last Thursday came, the special day, and I was feeling wonderful. At 10:00 in the morning I had my 11th treatment. When it was finished Jerry headed our already loaded Jeep toward San Diego. We stopped for food then drove to Andrew and Shawnna’s home (Gentry’s parents) where we visited a couple of hours before it was time to leave. The graduation exercise were held in the open air theatre of San Diego State University. Beautiful. Very impressive. So very proud of Gentry. A meal for the family and friends at Lidos Italian restaurant followed. It was late when we plopped down on the comfy bed in Andrew’s home.

For breakfast Andrew took us to a charming place in La Jolla where we ate outside, the magnificent Pacific in our distant view.

Treatment number 12 was scheduled for early afternoon, so we said our good-byes and traveled again to Ontario Kaiser Permanente.

On Saturday, Mike and Melina drove over from Lake Havasu for Father’s Day. Jerry smoked scrumptious ribs, I added a few things, and on the back deck we four feasted.

Sunday morning: Father’s Day

We four joined Rebecca at her church in Rialto for a delightful service, then for lunch we met with Melina’s parents and others of her family at Martha Greene’s in Redlands.

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Rebecca and Michael hugged up with their daddy.

This morning I completed my 13th treatment. I feel wonderful! Onward!

 

The Day of My Ninth Radiation Treatment

It’s been a good day. Good to think that I’m a third of the way through these treatments. The irradiated parts of my skin are in great condition, and I still feel very well. As one of the nurses bent over me today adjusting my body on the table, I told her how terrible I felt with chemo, and how great I’m feeling now. She smiled, and with a touch of warning in her voice said, “The radiation effects can sneak up on you.” I told her I was aware of it, and that I have myself mentally prepared–just in case.

Early this afternoon here at our home, one of our Crestline friends (whom you may have met here) called and asked if I was up for a short visit.

Of course I was, and Jerry snapped a picture as this delightful 86 year-old charmer and I sat together in our living room.

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She came bearing a gift.

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The flower is a wild iris that she picked from along the road as she took her morning walk. (She walks a mile a day, sometimes two!) The bottle is recycled, she told me, and I could see it was. During these days of my cancer detour I’ve received lots of gifts, and extraordinarily beautiful floral arrangements. None surpass this beautiful, elegant, humble gift.

DSC_3534And so…….my day–the 9th of radiation–has been a very good one. Trust yours has been as well.

Radiation Continues

The machine is huge, and of course I wanted to take a picture of it, but I was denied permission to do so. . .except that one of the male attendants let me know he might find a way that I could do so. I had seen him messing around with a nice camera . . .

I did grab this link so that you can have an idea of the scope and formation of the radiation machine. Pictured is the exact machine that is treating me.

Today I had my 8th treatment, and I am happy to tell you that I have felt no ill effects at all. I am so thankful. While I continue to think in a positive way, I do understand the radiation treatments are cumulative and that during later treatments I could have some negative reactions. For now–I’m perfect! I feel strong and full of faith!