Saturday, October 5, 2013

LIFE GOES ON


2013 October 5


Life Goes On


First, the update on my 88 year old Daddy. On September 30, my brother, Vinny, and I accompanied Daddy to his oncology appointment.  Daddy has been experiencing a cough which often produces mucus and blood. This is relatively new. He is apparently losing weight again. He has intermittent pain, although Dr. G, the oncologist, assures us that if this were cancer pain, it would be "persistent and progressive", rather than intermittent.  Daddy is also very frail, as he likes to say, "well below his fighting weight", and his balance and gait are unsteady. Add to that the fact that he is a stubborn old man, who refuses to use any steadying device when he's at home and only a cane when he goes out. Plus, if he begins to wobble, and you touch him to offer a steadying hand, he becomes angry. He is constantly at risk for falling, but refuses to acknowledge it. 



Since Dr. G is an oncologist, he tried very hard to explain to Daddy which symptoms were cancer related and which were related to aging and frailty. I'm not sure how much Daddy actually heard. The next step, with regard to the lung cancer, was a CAT scan, to check the progression of the tumors, followed by two doctor's appointments, one with Dr. G and one with a radiologist on the same day. Those will happen on Tuesday of this coming week. Depending on what the scan showed, Daddy may have 10 days of radiation therapy, in an attempt to slow the tumor's growth and control the bleeding. 




It is very difficult for me to watch my Father become a shadow of himself, and an angry shadow, at that. I can only imagine how hard it is for Vinny, with whom my Dad lives. 



Saturday, September 28, 2013

TOO MUCH


2013 September 


Too Much in a Short Time


There have been multiple events that have had the effect of overwhelming me both very recently, and over the last several months. I want to share, because I think part of the centering process for me, is in sharing.



There is the ongoing circumstance of my Dad and his cancer diagnosis and prognosis. After spending about five months in Pittsburgh after Daddy's surgery, unrelated to the cancer, and the cancer diagnosis, we spent eight weeks traveling before returning to the area on September 19.



One reason for the return to Pittsburgh was my Dad's 88th birthday. Another, was a series of doctor's appointments and procedures that I wanted to accomplish before heading south for the winter. And, additionally, it was time to have the difficult conversations with Daddy regarding his wishes regarding end of life issues. 



All of this has been emotionally draining. Add to that, the fact that I have been diligently trying to reduce my dependence of Prozac to treat my depressive symptoms for the last year, and I seem to have hit an emotional wall. In fact, I hit that wall and began to slide down it. The fact that I was also ingesting a hormone as part of the treatment of hyper estrogen production, contributed to my emotional fragility, too. And that hormone was making me extremely emotional and skewed my already impaired perceptions.



The breaking point seemed to come about three weeks ago. My thought processes became very dark. I recognized the shift enough to reach out via text message to my former therapist, requesting an appointment when we arrived in Pittsburgh. I am grateful that her cell number hadn't changed, and that I kept that number. I am also grateful that I knew that if I made an appointment to see her, it would help me hang on until we got back in the Pittsburgh area.




All of that is related to the emotional aspects of my life. Then there are the physical aspects.



We arrived in the Pittsburgh area in September 19. The morning of the 20th, I had an appointment for a uterine biopsy. Still feeling very depressed, and anxious, I was overreactive when the OB-Gyn was, as usual, running behind schedule. Our interaction was less than pleasant, especially when I was emphatic about NEVER taking progesterone ever again. I left his office angry and unsatisfied with regard to the state of my estrogen/uterine health, and awaiting biopsy results. 



The following Monday, I had three doctor's appointments. First was my PCP, for an annual check up, for which I had already had blood work done. Because she is a caring and thorough doctor, she is also notorious for running behind schedule, and because I love her, I forgive her. It is also why, if possible, I try to schedule to be her first appointment of the day. I arrived at 7:50, for my 8AM appointment. At 8:20, I was getting extremely nervous and agitated, as my next appointment was at 8:45, one floor above. I set the timer on my phone to go off with enough time to get up the stairwell and to the next appointment on time. When my Dr. entered the room, I held up the phone, showing her the timer and announced that she had six minutes. To her credit, she took one look at me and asked, "Are you thinking of harming yourself?"  I immediately broke down, sobbing. Her ability to cut to the chase when necessary is another reason I love her. We discussed, (quickly), my Prozac dosage, my upcoming therapy appointment, the results of my blood work, and my Dad's situation. When my alarm went off, she told me to take the emergency door, so as not to be late for my urology appointment, and to come back later to pay my co-pay and pick up prescriptions. 



By the time I made it into the Urologist's office, only one minute late, I was feeling like maybe the world wasn't collapsing in on me, and that maybe, if I increased my Prozac, even temporarily, I might find my way out into daylight again.



My urologist is another doctor whom I love. I am completely comfortable with him. When he entered the room, he asked if I had any questions. I told him my only question was the date of my last bladder tumor and if it was long enough ago, could I move to yearly cystos. He said that he had wondered that very thing himself, and checked my records. Turned out my last "new" tumor had been in August 2009, so barring any developments, I could move to yearly checks of my bladder. As he was doing the procedure, I was chatting with the nurse, so I was unprepared when Dr. Traub said, " We may have jinxed ourselves. There is a new growth at the top of your bladder wall that we need to remove."  While I do love Dr. Traub, I was looking forward to seeing him once a year. Now, suddenly, I knew I was back to the every three month schedule, and it felt like the low point in my day. The good news was that because he is aware of our lifestyle, he went above and beyond to schedule the removal (fulgeration) later the same week. 



When I finished with the urologist, I had thirty minutes before my next and final appointment of the day at the Orthopedic surgeon's. I went and paid my PCP and picked up paperwork. If I had eaten, I would've gone and had some follow up blood work done, but since I hadn't and Dr. Ebbert clearly stated this was "non-fasting", I put it off for another day.



At the Orthopedist's office, I got taken back to an exam room right at 10. Things were looking up again, since my appointment was for 10. Little did I know… Dr. Smith arrived in the exam room around 10:15, which wasn't too bad. He was much more engaging than on my previous visit. He showed me my MRI and explained all that was happening in my cervical spine, little of which was good. We discussed my initial positive response to Medrol and the return of my symptoms after seven weeks. We discussed my symptoms and the probability of their progression. He tested my arm strength, which shortly thereafter induced more symptoms. He told me that I was "on the surgery track." This was NOT something I had expected to hear. He also said that surgery wasn't necessary immediately, but would be in the near future. I asked about cortisone injections. He explained that he generally doesn't like to inject necks, but that, in any case, mine was not a single area problem, but rather, a three tier problem. That means that my cervical spine isn't just screwed up in one area, but in three! (Just typing that makes me want to cry.) 



I told him that I had gotten the cervical traction kit and he suggested I also get a soft cervical collar to wear at night, in hopes of making sleeping easier. We discussed the possibility of anti-inflammatory drugs. But all of these are short term, stop gap measures, until I decide to have him cut my neck. 



He explained the procedure, too. A small incision would be made in my left anterior neck. My trachea and esophagus would be moved to the right, while my carotid artery and large neck muscle would be moved to the left, allowing a clear plane for the surgeon. He would then chip away the bone which is causing pressure on the nerve that passes through it, in several areas. Then cadaver bone would be placed, essentially as a spacer. And this comes with all the "normal" surgical risks, in addition to the additional risks involved with spinal surgery. As to the cadaver bone, it is used because to use bone from one's own hip is extremely painful, and, I am assured, cadaver bone works just as well. 



To say I was overwhelmed would be a gross understatement!



I did ask if I could wait until spring for the surgery. Dr. Smith said I could, if my symptoms allowed, and revisited the progression I might experience. I explained that we have a rental commitment in Florida for the winter. His response, is still puzzling to me. He said, " Well, if you wait until February for the surgery, I'll need to re-evaluate you in January."  In what universe is February, spring? Anyway, what he meant was that if I put the surgery off for longer that 90 days, the insurance company will require him to re-evaluate me prior to the scheduling process. To be honest, I still haven't quite wrapped my brain around all the logistics involved when I schedule the surgery. But, more about that later. 



That was all on Monday. Monday night, I did increase my Prozac dosage as suggested by Dr. Ebbert. Tuesday, I had an appointment with my former therapist, Lisa. Wednesday, I bought a soft cervical collar, which produced my first good night's sleep in several weeks. I also tried to fill a prescription for anti-inflammatories, but ran into an insurance snag. Still trying to get that sorted. On Thursday, I had my fulgeration of my "new" tumor, and Dr. Traub graciously has allowed me to either have my next cyst in March, or, if I come back sooner for the neck surgery, he'll see me sooner.



I am feeling brighter, thanks to increased Prozac. So, the emotional strains are getting under control. The physical strains? Well, that remains to be seen.



Today is Saturday. Monday my brother, Vinny and I will take our Dad for his oncology recheck. Perhaps the emotional strains will be tested further. 



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Going Back


2013 SEPT 18


Going Back 


What is it about each return trip to Pittsburgh that fills me with anxiety?  


I know, this time I am concerned for my Dad's appointment with his oncologist, and I am a bit swamped by the number of my own doctor's appointments. Yet, truth be told, each time we return to the town where we grew up and spent most of our adult lives, I am overwhelmed intense feelings. Sometimes these are unexplained anxiety. Sometimes, grief. Sometimes intense sadness. And before you jump to the conclusion that the grief and sadness are because I miss my hometown, let me assure you, the feelings do not spring from anything so mundane as homesickness.


I do sometimes miss my family, especially my Dad. But, I do not miss the city.


As we were driving across Pennsylvania today, I was relatively relaxed. I noted, though, as we began moving farther west, I felt less at ease. Some of the tension may have been simple fatigue. I was up early and had driven many hours, and I begin to really wind down after 2PM. Yet, there is a feeling of dread that I cannot fully contribute to being tired.


Over the years, I have become more and more aware of the effect certain places have on my sense of well being, and on my psyche. Our old house in Pittsburgh was a place I never felt comfortable in, even long before it was "our house".  On our visit to that property last September, my level of discomfort was so fierce that it made me physically uncomfortable to be there. In addition, it made me psychologically uncomfortable, as well. I have had visceral reactions to places while traveling, too. Some in a negative sense, others in a very positive way.


What is it about returning to Pittsburgh that causes such an extreme reaction in me? I am sitting in a campground in Bellefonte, PA, trying to sort out these feelings of anxiety, grief, tearfulness, and dread. 



Sunday, August 11, 2013

Rediscovering the Past


2013 August 9

Rediscovering the Past


Yesterday I reread my prayer journal from my last trip to Ireland and the Dublin Prayer Conference (DPC), in 2006. Finding it and reading it brought back a rush of memories. 


It was my third time attending the Dublin Prayer Conference. It was the only time I attended as an individual, not as part of a team. It was in the midst of a trying period in my relationship with my home church and especially, with my then pastor. I was struggling spiritually. Previous trips to the DPC had fueled desires to do whatever was in my personal power to support and encourage missions. On this trip, I felt less connected, more vulnerable, and more afraid of my personal shortcomings. Some of those feelings were based in the loss of Elder Matt Smith, from New Hope Church. Some were outgrowths of my own insecurity, some because of my desire to fit in, especially without a team to offer encouragement and support. 


The notations in my prayer journal seem to run the gamut from intense praise and worship, to recognizing my extreme shortcomings and asking for guidance to overcome them, to a report of my inappropriate outburst of anger and the need to offer apologies to those affected by it. Not a stellar journal, by any stretch of imagination.


Reading it, though sometimes uncomfortable, did bring to mind the many people who probably have no memory of me, but who had a profound effect on me. People like Jonathan and Hazel Reid, Jacob Reynolds, Craig Maiden, David Ross, Brian and Collen Corr, Mick Breen, Cathy Breen, Andy and Louise Halpern, Tom and Vickie Gilliam, Ron and Mary Wilson, along with many of the attendees of the Conference. It jogged my memory. These were people whose experiences spoke to my heart about the need to spread the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These were people for whom I had prayed regularly for years. Yet somehow, I had drifted away from both God and them, and the promise to do what I could to support them in their work of missions. 


It made me realize that in some ways I had allowed some negative experiences in my home church to have lingering effects on too many other aspects of my life, especially in an area where I had previously felt called, in the arena of missions. I had allowed disappointment, pain, and hurt to fester until I forgot about my commitment to pray. I painted with too broad a stroke, and in the process painted myself into a corner, and turned my back on my promises and on God, who had himself promised to "be with me always, and in all ways".


I am grateful for finding that prayer journal. It is the beginning of a rediscovery process, as I begin to recover my relationship with my God who has never left me. I know this will be the beginning of a new start and I am buoyed by the thought. I also hope this will be a new beginning and a recovery of my relationships with those whom I have lost along the way, especially those in the work of missions.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

At 63 Years Old


2013 July 28


At 63 Years Old


Before I begin what will likely be a rant, perhaps a little background information is in order. I have been happily menopausal/post menopausal for about nine years. That in itself will give you some indication of what this rant will encompass, so if you are offended by discourse regarding female issues, stop reading NOW!


My reproductive system has never really been user friendly. I have endured PMS, infertility, arrogant fertility specialists, and assorted surgeries, pains and discomforts over the years. Once having come to terms with all of the challenges offered up on a monthly basis by my uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes, I settled in, and learned to "tell time" by the passing of each menstrual cycle. If nothing else worked well in that system, it was, at least, regular as clockwork. For me, a month was the length of time from the beginning of one cycle to the next.


When menopause began, I actually felt a little sad, in spite of the tempestuous relationship with my lady parts, because it required me to rethink my time passage measurement. But, as women always do, I adjusted. And I cruised along becoming comfortable with a new season of my life. 


In many ways, a very pleasant season. No cramps, no mood swings, no sudden gushes during a period caused by doing something strenuous, like lifting something heavy no unexplained cravings for chocolate, no emotional outbursts - none of those unpleasant, annoying aspects of womanhood. Learning a new way, albeit "normal" way to measure time transit seemed little to take on in exchange for loosing so many annoying things.


So, in this new found freedom, I have cruised through the past nine years. Granted, my family doctor, who does my pelvic exams, would occasionally bug me about a uterine polyp with which she was concerned. Mostly, I have been able to ignore her. However, once we were in Pittsburgh for an extended period this late winter into early summer, I could ignore her no longer. (The reason I was ignoring her requests to have the polyp checked was that it required me to visit the gynecologist whom I did not like. And because I was too lazy to seek out a different gynecologist) To placate her, more than for any other reason, I scheduled an appointment with the dreaded gynecologist.


Poor Raymond. I made him go with me, even into the exam room. To my dismay, his impression was that, "he seems like a nice guy". That really isn't relevant, though. The initial exam, concurred with my PCP's concerns, and I was scheduled for a procedure, to remove the polyp and biopsy it and my uterine lining, with was "too thick for someone so far post menopausal". Suddenly the lovely period of detente between the lady parts and I was at risk.


The polyp was removed and was benign, as was the too thick uterine lining. It seems that although I am indeed post menopausal, my ovaries are producing more estrogen than is considered normal, which in turn, causes a thickened uterine lining. Both the gyne and my PCP are concerned that left to its own devices, this lining might decide to evolve into uterine cancer at some point. In order to combat that possible issue, they both thought (think) I should follow a course of treatment that would require me to take 10mg of Provera (a hormone my menopausal self no longer produces ~ progesterone) for ten days at the beginning of each month for three months. In fairness, the gynecologist wanted me to take it for June/July/August, but I didn't start it in June, as I waited until I talked to my PCP, to get her take on it. Since I trust her, and since she seemed to make a case for taking it, I acquiesced, and decided to move the treatment to July/August/September. Since my next appointment with the gynecologist isn't until late September, I figured it really didn't matter.


So, on July 1, I began my first month taking Provera. The doctor had warned me that if I had been prone to PMS symptoms, they could return with this medication. PMS would've been welcome! Instead, I became a screaming, psychopathic, irritable bitch! There is no other word for it! It was as if my evil twin had taken up residence and even though I wanted to, I could NOT evict her. I hated everything and everyone! I was critical of everything Raymond did or didn't do. I was cranky beyond measure. I cried or yelled, more or less constantly. Everything and everyone irritated me to the point that I wanted to slap them, or worse. In a word, I was UGLY! I was SO UGLY that I couldn't even stand myself! It seemed like the longest ten days of my life! I can only guess how long it felt to my poor husband.


In the midst of the early days of July on Provera, I also began a course of Medrol (a steroid - yet another hormone!) this one for the treatment of the severe arthritic changes in my cervical spine which were causing problems with a nerve root. I asked the pharmacist if this would interact with progesterone which was already recking havoc with my personality. He said that it might "intensify" things for the first few days, but somehow thought it reassured me when he told me, "it's really not a 'you' thing - it happens to everyone taking progesterone". I was not comforted!


The pharmacist was correct, though, as the steroid for the arthritic stuff didn't seem to effect me as badly as the other hormone.



Finally, day ten arrived. No more Provera. Thank you, Lord! I won't say I mellowed out immediately, but there was light at the end of that tunnel. 


Remember the joke about the light at the end of the tunnel being the oncoming train? Yep, there it was three days later, as promised by the gyne, the light at the end of the tunnel that turned out to be my first period in nine, did you hear me? NINE!!!! years! While I knew this was the expected outcome resulting from dumping progesterone in my body, it still came as a general shock to my 63 three year old system!


Let me say this as simply as I can: at 63 I am too old to be standing in line buying tampons and pads! Granted the whole period was over in five days, but it sucked! I don't want to have a period at 63! especially after not having one for 9 years! The whole process, from the crazy irritable person inhabiting my body, to the shedding of excess uterine lining, to finally staring to feel human again took up more than half the month of July! I don't want to repeat that process in August and September! 


Yesterday, while driving to Adams, NY, Raymond and I were discussing all of this. I said that I was leaning toward stopping the Provera. He was enthusiastic in his support. Until he questioned why I was doing it in the first place. When I explained to him that the doctors were concerned about the thickened uterine lining developing into uterine cancer, he suddenly had a change of heart, and thought I should take the remaining course of Provera, in spite of the maniac we both fear I will temporarily become.


I'm still not convinced. As I told Raymond, if I'm 63 and on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no chance of cancer and 10 being cancer, I am at 1.5,  and if I have been at 1.5 for at least 9 years, what are the odds that I will develop cancer? And if I do, couldn't they just yank my uterus? Raymond's response was to question whether that type of cancer would spread if it did develop. 


So… here I sit, just a few days away from the beginning of the next month with no idea what I am going to do. Take it, or not, that is the question. I do not want to become a screaming mimi for for the first ten days of August. I also do not want to deal with having another period. I hate the whole process. It feels so unnatural. Yet, I certainly do not want to develop uterine cancer. But the question remains, if I have had a thickened uterine lining for the past nine years without it being positive for cancer (it has been pre-cancerous - but NEGATIVE for actual cancer cells), what are the odds that I WILL develop cancer? I don't want to tempt fate. I have been down the cancer road with my bladder and am grateful for how contained any abnormal cell growth there has been.


I'm thinking phone calls to both docs are in order tomorrow. Perhaps the severity of my reaction to Provera will decrease with each consecutive month. Perhaps it won't. I need some straight answers and NOT simply, being told this is what we generally do. In spite of the song, I am NOT every women! I am an individual and perhaps this is not the course of treatment for me. I certainly don't want to take medication that in the long run, may not really have any effect. But, on the other hand, I don't want to see my uterine lining morph into cancer. What's a 63 year old to do?


Oh! and just a little side note. When I asked the gyne if we couldn't just do a hysterectomy, back in April, his response was, "I can't in good conscience take out healthy tissue." So, if it's healthy, why am I taking Provera and scheduled for yet another biopsy in September? It all seems rather convoluted to me. 


Perhaps I should've called him while I was harboring my angry twin during those early weeks in July. 



Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Weight


2013 July 16


Weight ...


Lately, things have been weighing on me. 


What kinds of things? Well, the air conditioning in our barely four month old car gave up cooling. That was a BIG one, especially in the midst of the current heat wave. Especially when the service department told me the part was on "national back order". There was my trip to Erie to get the tow plate installed on the little car. That was an OK experience, but it lead to me start wondering about towing and my abilities. My Dad has been a constant concern, but not because of his cancer diagnosis. No, that's something we can't do anything about. Rather, I have spent months asking him to travel with us for the time period when we leave the Pittsburgh area in late July and when we will return to the area in late September. He has been resistant, but always using "Dad speak", never refusing outright. Finally, I had an epiphany, and approached him as he was resting one afternoon. I told him that I was going to stop asking, because I didn't think he wanted to come along. The look of relief that washed across his face and lit up his eyes as he said that, no, he really didn't want to come with us, broke my heart in little pieces. All this time, I have been asking, begging, plying with ideas and reasons why it would be a good thing and in that moment I realized that it would've only been good for me, not him! All this time, I thought I was being a good daughter, when in fact, I was being a pain in the ass. It hurts my heart to think that all this time, I have been annoying him when all I wanted was to be helpful, to him and to my brother. Yeah, my brother. Another area that has been weighing on me. My brother retired after 30 years at the USPS on January 31, 2013. On February 15, Daddy's decline began. My number three baby brother has been Daddy's primary caregiver since then. He has had no time to relax, to travel, to enjoy the fruits of his thirty year labor. I feel guilty. So, if Daddy would come along with us, it would allow my brother some relaxation time, without this added responsibility. Then there's the financial aspect of having been relatively stationary since February 22. Campgrounds in the area have been expensive by our standards. that put a dent in our budget. Then Greyla needed expensive diagnostics and surgery in April, has had blood work since that isn't cheap, and needs daily medication for her arthritic hind quarters. So much for trying to get debt free. In point of fact, we have too often relied on credit cards during out time on the road. And all of this is without even mentioning any personal health issues. Yep, things are weighing on me.



This morning the service guy from the car dealer called to say that the compressor for our car should arrive tomorrow, and would I like to make an appointment for repairs on Thursday. Felt like turning the corner, even though it was such a little thing - someone following through on what they needed to do.



I think that the general circumstances of our extended visit have fueled my natural tendency to be emotional. Add to that, the fact that my PCP and Gynecologist have encouraged me to follow a treatment plan which includes the ingestion of hormones over a three month period, from July through September. Is it any wonder that I am an emotional mess, with feelings of intense emotionality and feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders?





Thursday, July 11, 2013

2011 July 11: An Old Email Letter Found

[This is an email letter I sent to friends back when I was first suspected of having bladder cancer. I recently found it buried among other things in my documents folder. It made me wonder who this person was, because I don't feel I have this level of faith and trust at the moment.]



Feb 22 2008

Dear family, friends and wonderful intercessory prayers,

This is just a note to let you all know that everything went well on
Friday with the surgical removal of the bladder tumor that was only just found last Monday.  


I am feeling pretty good, and only have some pain (which is relieved
with extra strength Tylenol) upon urination. I am keeping well hydrated, which will help the healing process.  The tumor will be biopsied and results should be available in 5 working days. I will let you know what happens when I know.  For right now, I am at peace, because God has me in His hands and I am ever so aware of His presence.


Throughout this whirlwind week, things have happened that I know to be 
Providential. The discovery of the bladder tumor during the course of
an examination for something completely unrelated...the availability of
both the appointment with the urologist AND the surgical time, due to
cancellations by other patients...especially considering that the urologist was well booked through mid-March...the presence of  people in my path to testify personally about the nature of this type of cancer (if it turns out to be cancer).  There are no coincidences, only God incidences.


The doctor said candidly that this type of tumor is cancerous in 80% of
cases.  Well, that means it's NOT cancer in 20%, right? I'm hanging onto that!  But, the Doctor and some of those 'others' who passed through my life this week, also said in not so many words, that if you have to get cancer, this is the one to have, because it is generally a contained type which does not spread.  So, either way you look at it, it's good news.


There are so many things for which I am grateful. The love and kindness
shown to me has been a wonder. I am blessed to have such support.  From my dear brother who was the first to see me immediately after the urology appointment when I was scared and approaching a meltdown, to Raymond who has been my rock, to my wonderful friend and SIL, Barb, who took the day off work, took me to the hospital and then kept Raymond company during the procedure, to all my praying friends and cyber pals.  God has blessed me with an incredible support system!  


As a good friend said just the other day, "If God brings you to it,
He'll bring you through it". To that I say, "Amen!" 


The graciousness of my employer in the midst of this situation is also a blessing.  This has created havoc in her life, yet she made phone calls on my behalf to ask for prayers for me. 


The week before all this began, we had one of the most relaxing, wonderful and enjoyable vacations EVER, in the 4WD area of Currituck County, North Carolina.  That was definitely a gift from God. He was lying the ground work of peace and comfort, of learning to rest in Him that I would need so desperately during this week just past. 


Praise God with me!  He is good all the time. He is in control all the time. We have His promise that He is with us always (Matt 28:20).  Never have I been more sure of that promise than during these last two weeks.


In Gratitude for His Peace,

JeanMarie


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


[Followed by this email one week later]



2008 Feb 29 More on Bladder Cancer



Dear friends,

The biopsy report came back positive for cancer.  However, it was low stage, low grade and contained: all excellent news! In addition, the tumor was growing out & up, which means it didn't infiltrate surrounding tissue. I have a CT scan scheduled for 3/7, a post op Dr's visit ion 3/18, and barring anything as yet undiscovered, I will see the urologist every three months for the next two years. It's all good!


On 3/5 I have a gynecologic appointment to address issues that lead me to have the original ultrasound that found the bladder tumor.  Hopefully all will go well with that appointment, as well.  After talking to both my PCP & Urologist and asking the questions that I awoke in the middle of the night mulling over, I fell very sure that the two problems are completely unrelated.  Since they both revolved around abnormal cell growth, I had many questions.  I thank God that I have a long-term relationship with my PCP and feel comfortable asking her anything, even those questions which may seem insipid, or unnecessary.  Plus, there is a comfort in the fact that she knows me & my husband and sees us a whole, complete, entities, not just the sum of our "parts".


Thank you, all of you. It has been a great comfort to know that you have been praying me through this process.  I am blessed to have so many good friends and prayer partners.  I thank God for each and every one of you.


Apparently, if you must have cancer, this is the one to have.  Seriously, because it was low grade, low stage, and contained, it is extremely unlikely that I will need any further treatment.  The need to be followed closely is due to the good possibility that this type of tumor may re-grow.  However, by frequent visits to the urologist, any new growth can be spotted early and removed in his office, without further surgeries and anesthesia. 


Cancer has long been a dreaded fear of mine. My Mother died at age 49 from lung cancer.  I often thought that cancer would take me at a young age and spent a good portion of my 49th year living in dread. I have lost friends to the disease and have seen other friends and family plod through the diagnosis of "cancer" to come out the other side, scathed but alive.  I am no longer afraid of cancer.  This experience opened my eyes to what possibilities there are in living without fear, knowing that God is in control. 


Again, thanks to all of you and may God bless you.


Love,

JeanMarie




Monday, July 1, 2013

THOUGHTS ON BIRTHDAYS AND MORTALITY


2013 July 1




As we age, you might think birthdays would be more special. At this point in our lives, though, we seem to take them for granted. They seem mundane; just another day. Perhaps we have become jaded. Or perhaps we simply don't want to be reminded of how long we've been around. Maybe we've simply become more low key, secure in ourselves, not needing the affirmations of others. I'm not sure into which category R and I might insert ourselves at this point.



Today is my husband's birthday. We do not normally make a big deal of the event. Happy Birthdays are said. Perhaps ones favorite food is made or ordered from a local restaurant. Raymond doesn't eat sweets, so there is never a cake on his day. But, in general, we are lackadaisical about birthdays.



But, this year, his birthday seems as if it should be more. Perhaps it results from having had so many changes in plans over the past four - five months. Perhaps it is because I feel like I "owe" him because he has been so patient in the midst of my Dad's illness. Perhaps, (and I think this might be the real reason,) it has a lot to do with having met our next door neighbors here at Indian Brave Campground. 



Meeting H & W, and now, watching them as they face H's terminal condition, gives birthdays new significance. If you read my post about them, http://meandrayandadognamedgrey.blogspot.com/2013/06/strangers-no-more.html you know that H (husband) and W (wife) are a sweet, quirky, lovable couple we met when they pulled into the space next to ours, back in May. They have recently been told that H's liver is shot. Without a transplant, he is facing a decidedly shortened life, barring a miracle. On his last birthday, did he suspect that it might be one of his last? Did W, who is eighteen years older than her partner, and dealing with severe health issues of her own, think that she would face the possibility of birthdays without her H?
I doubt it, on either question.



Too often we go along, just as R and I have, expecting that there will be another day, week, month, year, birthday. But, none of those are promised to us. So, let's celebrate while we can! Each day is a gift. Each birthday, a milestone to be celebrated! And, it's OK if you celebrate in a low key manner. Just remember to celebrate! And remember to be grateful!



Sunday, May 19, 2013

Greyla, the Rest of the Story




Amazingly, Greyla, our splenectomy survivor, turned 14 years old on May 2!


When last I blogged, she was 2 days post op, at VCA Northview, where she went via our little car, on a borrowed stretcher, for the doggie equivalent of post op intensive care. 


That was on April 24. We had gone to visit her around 11 AM. While she seemed to be improving, she still was refusing food at the hospital. We spoke with Dr. Sisk around 1PM, and he assured us that he would have no problem sending her home that afternoon, since he was of the opinion that she would relax more at home and possibly be more interested in food, as well. 


We knew we weren't completely out of the woods. We had been warned about all possible post surgical complications. But, she had survived! Now, if we could just get her to eat…



We left Northview to see if the local Petco had a ramp in stock. They did. We ran a few errands and around 3:30, returned to get Greyla, her assorted post surgical medications and instructions and then, return to Mountain Top Campground. 



We spoke with our regular Vet, Dr Bennett, early Thursday,the 25th, to fill him in on everything. I explained that my concern was getting nutrition into her. I had cooked some chicken breasts, which she refused. Same with beef, and even fast food. He suggested that we come and get some A/D dog food, which we could mix with water and syringe into her mouth. So, late Thursday the 25th, I picked up some A/D, as well as a Philly Cheesesteak from Sonic, plain, no onions.


Both the A/D and the cheesesteak were a hit! We began feeding small amounts, several times daily. Mostly we used the cheesesteak to disguise her pills.


Then early on Thursday  evening, the 25th, Dr Bennett called while I was on the phone with my brother. Since I have not yet figured out how to answer the cell phone while conducting a conversation, I simply hung up on my brother, saw that the incoming number was AllPet, and returned the call.



Dr Bennett asked if I had heard his voicemail, but, of course, I had not. While he was as happy as we were that Greyla was warming to the idea of eating, his message was even more astounding! The histopathology report on Greyla's mass had come in. There was NO SIGN of ANY NEOPLASIA!!!!!! NO CANCER!!!!! All I could say, was, "Thank You, Jesus!" Dr Bennett was happy at the results, but was himself, amazed. My friend Princess told me that she believed God granted us this miracle because He knew I couldn't handle anymore on my emotional plate. 


I'm not sure what I believe at this point. I just know that I am grateful to still have our girl and grateful that she has no cancer to deal with at this point. 



Now, nearly four weeks after her surgery, she seems recovered. Her staples came out on her birthday, May 2. She has her appetite back, along with a strange, new craving for bread. She seems pretty much back to her old self. She is back to being Greyla, my "Stink", my "Schmoo", my "Sweet baby girl", and Raymond's, "Grey", his "Kiddo". She goes on multiple short walks each day, sniffing each step along the way, she wakes Raymond each morning at 5:45, she greets me at the side of the bed when I finally awaken around 7, she looks at her empty dish each morning when I rise, she squeezes her way onto the sofa with Raymond. All the things we would miss if she were gone, but she's NOT! 



Raymond has declared that Greyla should be up for an award for "Come Back Dog of the Year"!  I am grateful.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Waiting Continues


2013 April 23 - 24

The Waiting Continues


On Monday, Dr Bennett called after Greyla's splenectomy was finished,but before she was fully out of anesthesia because he knew how worried we were. I was so happy to hear that she survived the surgery! My deepest fear had been that she would die on the OR table, and my extreme superstition would not allow me to voice that fear! They had removed the mass and spleen and ligated all bleeders. The mass was a whooping ten pounds! And as impressive as that is, the thing ruptured shortly after they removed it! Her liver looked "beautiful", to quote Dr Bennett. Her PVC, post surgery, was 34. Not out of the woods yet, but all in all, good news. 



[A splenectomy and removal of such an enormous blood-filled mass, is an equally enormous risk,especially in a dog who is broaching her 14th birthday. We were fully aware of the risks, but elected to do it anyway, because the alternative was to watch her slowly ebb away, in increasing discomfort, with the very real possibility that the mass would rupture causing her to bleed out and die. But the decision was not one we took lightly, for so many reasons, including the financial hit, with no guarantee of success. So, when Dr Bennett called, post surgery, my relief that she had not died on the table was palpable. Unfortunately, we perhaps failed to calculate the full cost of such invasive surgery on the sweet old girl, and we neglected to fully realize how long the recovery process would be.]



Later on Monday afternoon, Dr Person called to say that we should come out to Allpet around 7:30 to see Greyla and to decide where she should go for further post op care, since Allpet does not offer 24 hour monitoring. 



Seeing Greyla that evening, in her still anesthesia induced stupor, we knew that she needed much more care than we could offer her. Our choices were PVSEC or VCA Northview for continuing care. We opted for Northview, basically bc it was the closer place. Allpet kindly offered the use of their stretcher, provided we promised to return it. 



The drive to Northview, through the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh was stressful, but we arrived without mishap and Greyla seemed a bit more aware. They settled her into a double cage, with loads of quilts and blankets, and even a folded towel as a pillow for her head. She, for the first time since the surgery, lifted her head and looked at Raymond & me with possible recognition. The road to recovery was beginning. The doctor, Dr McKlveen, assured us that us that we would only hear from her during the night, if there was a problem, and/or Greyla needed a transfusion. She also told us that Dr Threadgill would be coming in at 7 and he would be in touch sometime around 9AM, to report Greyla's progress. We drove home cautiously optimistic.



Dr Threadgill did indeed call in the morning, around 8, with the update. Greyla was not yet able to stand or walk. Some of that inability may be a result of her old arthritic limbs and joints. She exhibited some abdomen tenderness. Her liver enzymes were down a tad. The white blood count was elevated slightly. Her pack cell volume was stable. She was alert, aware and responsive. We could visit around 11. She could probably be discharged when she was able to arise and walk.



Our visit to see Greyla went well. She was brought into the room on a stretcher, but was alert and responsive. After a time, we put the rubber backed rug we brought with us on the floor and coaxed her to try and get up, hoping the rug would give her purchase that the floor alone did not. Her initial attempt was a failed one, but her second try got her onto the rug, under her own power, where she walked a single circle, then laid back down on the gurney. It wasn't a lot, but for us it was an extremely BIG deal! We also offered her several varieties of wet food, but she wanted none of them. When we return to visit in the evening, we'll bring other things to try and tempt her to eat.



Upon returning home, we each set about our tasks for the day. Mine included at trip to the laundromat. AS I was finishing up there, my phone rang. It was Dr Threadgill. He reported that one of the techs told him that "his friend" was standing up in her cage & had made a couple of circles. They got her out, and the tech then walked her through the treatment area, out the back door and outside, where Greyla peed, then walked back! All on her own! No coaxing and no assistance! I was beside myself with joy! And, Dr Threadgill, bless his Tennessee heart, was too! He said, " I was so happy and I knew you would be too, so even though I'm almost ready to leave, I knew I had to call and let you know." I called Raymond & we were both happy! The plan was to visit sometime after 7:30.



We called Northview to be sure the timeframe for visiting was good and the tech we talked to suggested bringing any food we thought she would eat, regardless of it's nutritional value. So, on our way, we made a stop at McD's and got nuggets, which she usually loves, as well as a plain burger, to compliment the assortment of bread, treats and dog food we were bringing from home.



I was expecting Greyla to be similar to how she had been in demeanor earlier in the day, with the added benefit that she could get up and walk. So, when the tech walked her into the room to visit with us, although I was thrilled that she was walking, I was disappointed by her demeanor. She seemed dull eyed, compared to earlier in the day. There was no attempt to make eye contact. She whimpered. To me, her gums seemed pale. She had 2 small areas of fresh pale blood on her blanket. We offered food, she refused it. Although, at one point in the vista she opted to eat 2 or 3 very teeny bits of one nugget. When Dr McKlveen came in, I asked about her gums and the whimpering and the blood, and was told that her blood values were stable, the blood from the incision site was not a concern and that Greyla whimpered when she needed to go out to the bathroom. I do not think it was the Dr intention to be dismissive, but that was how I took it. The difference between Greyla at 8pm and Greyla at 12 noon was crushing to me. And had I had my wits about me, I would've shared the pictures I took when we visited earlier in the day with Dr McKlveen, and perhaps she would've seen it too.



We left and in the parking lot, I broke down in tears, yet again. This time tears of lose for what little progress had been gained and now seemed gone. Yes, I want my girl to be able to get herself up from a resting position and walk, but I want her to do it with a light in her eyes and spirit. 



So, we wait a bit longer…



This morning we got a call from Dr Sisk, the daylight Vet today, reporting that he is changing Greyla's pain meds to address her arthritis problems better. He said she is still able to rise and walk and go outside. She is still refusing food. He feels that she will progress, but due to her age it will be a long rehab period. We will visit around noon. We will allow her to stay until Dr Threadgill comes on duty at 7PM and reviews her condition. We will visit agin in the evening, talk to Dr Threadgill and depending on why he has to offer, either leave her another day, or bring her home tonight.



In either case, we will try and get some kind of ramp together this afternoon, because when she does come home, we're concerned about how to get her into the car, as well as in and out of the motorhome. 



Monday, April 22, 2013

Waiting


2013 April 22


Today, in fact, right NOW, Greyla Girl, our almost 14 year old Labrador Retriever, is having surgery to remove her spleen and the huge mass attached to it.



She has been diagnosed via radiographs and ultrasound. She has had blood work and additional x-rays to ensure that her lungs are healthy, as well as her heart.



We mulled and considered and prayed before making the decision. And after making it.



This morning we took her at the Vet Hospital,where she has been four times over the past three weeks, got back into the car without her, and cried. Then we came home, worked on some RV related issues, called the hospital and asked them to please call us when she was going into surgery, so we would know when to be really stressed. They called about an hour ago. Oddly, I don't feel more stressed right now. I do feel weepy. It will be at least another hour before we hear anything, maybe as long as two. The surgery itself will take 90 minutes, at least, barring any complications. And they will monitor her for vitals, possible bleeding, and general well being for maybe an hour or more before they contact us. 



Waiting, that's the hardest part. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Curve Balls


2013 April  18

Life has thrown so many curve balls lately, that I am feeling completely turned around.



Initially, in mid February, when I called Pittsburgh and found that my Daddy was very sick, then found that he needed emergency surgery to correct a bowel obstruction caused by a hernia he choose to ignore, I thought that was the extent of things. Then, while he was in the hospital, they discovered a tumor in his lung. Then, the tumor turned out to be cancer. Then the cancer turned out to be metastasizing. Those were curve, after curve, after curve.



We arrived in Pittsburgh just one week after the emergency surgery took place. The only campground open and available was at the top of a former slag heap, now covered with grass, near Tarentum. It was more expensive than resorts we had stayed in in Florida, but it was open and within 20 miles of my Dad. Weather in Pittsburgh in February and March can be wildly unpredictable. This year choose to be very wet and often very cold, and because we are at elevation, very windy. It also meant that the wetness translated into mud! And it continued into April. Small curve balls, here I suppose. Like when the power went out on our electric pedestal in the 20 amp outlet where the heated hose was plugged in, and our water froze. Like the fact that we've been hauling dirty laundry to my brother's house since February, only to find out last week, that there are laundry facilities here, but no one ever mentioned them. (They are in a locked area beneath the owner's home and she "forgot" to tell us).


A visit to my family doctor to discuss some medication changes, turned into numerous tests, including an ultrasound which led to a specialist, which is leading to a procedure. Curve ball, curve ball, curve ball, curve ball. Good grief!



Then came the curve balls related to our Greyla Girl, who is nearly 14, and a mostly labrador retriever. She was having occasional bouts of being off her food, which we put down to her age and being finicky and the major change of being in the cold for the first time in 18 months. Then she threw up a couple of times. Again, she bounced back, so we didn't fret too long or hard. Then, one evening, she simply collapsed. All four feet went out from under her and I panicked. She refused to let me help her up, but simply laid on the floor for over an hour. Then, she managed to get up, with assistance, and go outside outside by means of us using a towel to sling her and asset her down the steps. The next morning I called the Vet. The vet saw her that afternoon and was of the opinion that she had arthritis. Dr Person gave her medication which seemed to help with her gait. However I neglected to share the information about her appetite and her occasional vomiting. To be honest, I was so overwhelmed by Greyla's collapse that I never even thought about these other things. Perhaps I threw that curve myself.



After two weeks on Rimadyl, we went back to the Vet, for blood work and a refill on the drugs, which seemed to be working. Here comes another curve ball. Greyla's blood work showed elevated liver enzymes. Now, it occurs to me to tell Dr Person about the lack of appetite, which comes and goes, and the occasional vomiting. We establish a plan of action. If Greyla doesn't eat in 24 hours, bring her in. In the meantime, stop the Rimadyl, consider beginning Tramadol for pain relief, and plan to recheck her blood work in a month, if she is eating normally.



Unfortunately, there is a nagging little voice in the back of my mind telling me to get her checked immediately. In spite of the fact that as soon as I hung up from Dr Person, Greyla ate very morsel in her dish. The nagging voice continued, until I called in the morning to request a recheck and abdominal X-rays. I was expecting an enlarged liver. What we saw, instead, was an enormous mass in the middle of Greyla's belly. It is so large, that it is displacing portions of her small intestines, and obscuring visualization via X-ray, of her liver, stomach, and spleen. Major curve ball! Especially curvy, because her physical exam was exceedingly normal. Dr Person suggested that an ultrasound guided aspirate or biopsy was probably the way to proceed. So, tomorrow sometime, Greyla and I will meet Dr Rodgers who will do the ultrasound.



In the meantime, additional curve balls have been lobbed regarding the ultrasound. One, by my dear husband, who questions spending the money on something diagnostic, which "isn't going to make her live longer". And then, the curve ball from a friend who talked about "the inevitable". 



I just want to do the best thing I can for Greyla. At this point we don't know if the mass is connected to any organs, or if it is benign, or cancer. I'm praying against any other curve balls, unless they involve a miracle, and the total disappearance of that huge mass. That would be a curve ball for which I would give thanks.





Monday, April 8, 2013

Another shared post...


February - March 2013

Sometimes the simplest things alter life in major ways. In mid February I made a phone call to my brother in Pittsburgh, from Fort Pickens Campground. That simple call changed everything about what we've done and plan to do from that point to this, and beyond.


During that phone conversation, it was revealed that Dad was sick, in pain, vomiting and refusing to go to the Emergency Room. After threats to Daddy, made by me, he finally agreed to allow my brother Vinny to take him to the ER. Turns out the old guy had a hernia, which he had been ignoring, that in turn, was causing a bowel obstruction. The ER admitted him to the hospital and surgery was scheduled for Saturday morning.


While Daddy was being prepared for surgery, during his chest x-ray, it was noted that he had a mass of some sort in his lower right lung. It was decided that this would be addressed after the hernia / obstruction repair.


Daddy's abdominal surgery went well. This fact is astounding, given his frail physical condition, and advanced age. In prime health, he weighed around 150 pounds. When admitted to the hospital, he weighed in at a mere 116 pounds. The hernia repair was accomplished and the obstruction was not severe enough to require a resection. Thank you, Lord! 


 A couple of days after the emergency abdominal surgery, Daddy had a CT scan of the mass in his lung, followed by a biopsy. The biopsy confirmed that the mass in his lung is cancer. 


All of these events took place before Raymond and I returned to PIttsburgh from Florida. My brother Vinny was the primary person dealing with all of these events. Perhaps a little background is in order.


Vinny owns the home in which he, our Dad, and two of our other unmarried brothers live. When Daddy was discharged from the hospital, it was to return to Vinny's house. In addition, Vinny had, at the end of January, retired from his 30 year gig at the USPS. His original plan had been to take a couple of weeks, head off to the beaches of NC and simply relax. For whatever reason, he didn't go, and I thank God that he didn't. He stepped up and became Daddy's primary care giver in those first days of Daddy's release. The other two brothers living in that house did what they could, but Vinny bore the weight of it. He's a good son, and a wonderful brother.


Raymond and I arrived in Pittsburgh on February 22. We were blessed to find the ONLY open campground in the PIttsburgh area, in the Tarentum area, about 18 miles northeast of where my Dad and brothers live. We drive and live in our motorhome, but have no other means of transportation, so we had to obtain a rental car. And let me just say that IF we had suspected that we would EVER be camping in PIttsburgh in February/March, we certainly would've opted for a motorhome with an arctic package! But that's a tale for another time, as is the whole experience related to our stay at Mountaintop Campground. This is the story of Daddy, which I will continue.



Sunday, April 7, 2013

Shared Post


This started out as notes. I wasn't sure if the notes would be for a blog post on Mind Flotsam or on Me And Ray And A Dog Named Grey. In the end, I decided to simply post it as is, on both blogs. Yes, I am lazy :) But, the longer post I have been trying to work on for weeks detailing Daddy's illness, surgery, discovery of cancer, and our journey back to Pittsburgh, just doesn't seem to be coming together. So here is something, anyway. ~jm




2013 Apr 7 Notes for possible blog post


One of my Facebook friends is Jamie The Very Worst Missionary. I also subscribe to  her blog posts. Today her blog led me to the website of her church, Lakeside, in Folsom CA. That in turn led me to blog posts by the pastor. Which led me to sobbing at my table as I read about the pastor's Mom and her passing.


The posts were poignant and funny, to use the pastor's word: Bittersweet.


One reason I was so touched by the posts, is that my own Daddy is dying. And to quote Brad, "we're all dying, but this is different". Very different when it is someone you've loved all your life. 


Selfish: he's 87 I have friends who lost their Dads at much younger ages. I don't care! I want my Daddy! (I seem to fluctuate between the bossy former nurse, the oldest child organizing things, and the terrified eight year old. that exclamation came from the eight year old.)


Selfish again: he told the oncologist, "Doc, I've been around long enough" He seems to accept his mortality. I have trouble with that.


Selfish & guilty: well meaning friends ask if my Dad knows Jesus. My response has become: in a Catholic way. Cop out? Truth? I fear bringing up the topic of Jesus, redeemer and salvation, because I don't want to alienate my Daddy.  We are talking more than we ever have in all our years. Not just about sports & superficial stuff. For the first time, Daddy is sharing with me stories about his feelings, things he loved doing, his friends, his interactions with the parish priest, Fr Matthew Kebe, when Daddy was a teen & an adult, and lots of other personal insights. I do not want to approach him in any way that will close off this flow of  interaction. I fear if I say something about Jesus, he will shut down on me and all opportunities will be lost…


Trying to maintain trust in the Lord: perhaps I  am grasping at straws, but I see this mornings sequence of Jamie's post and where it led, as a sign that God has it all under control. I also saw that same sign in Daddy's sharing stories about Fr Kebe with me on Easter. 
(Partially because when I was having difficulty, many years ago, accepting my former pastor's declaration that he would not baptist me, my friend Martha shared something she had written regarding not re-baptising an adult who had been baptized as an infant. She sighted the work of the Holy Spirit, and how we can never really KNOW, which caused me to think about Fr Kebe. I had not thought of him, maybe ever!  Yet, after reading Martha's paper, he came to mind. And somehow, knowing what a godly man, priest, he was gave me peace that even if my parents were having me baptized at 3 weeks old out of Catholic convention, the faith and dedication of the priest bringing me before the Lord, and HIS connection through the Holy Spirit were enough to allow the Spirit to work in me.)


Anyway, I am trusting that through the same Holy Spirit, God will give me words when the time is right, to talk to my Daddy about the redemption offered to all through Jesus death and resurrection. Perhaps our shared remembrances of Fr Kebe will be the door that leads to that conversation...