Thursday, July 28, 2011

Not Your Normal Anniversary

One year ago today I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.  No one ever wants to hear those words or join the club no one wants to belogn to...reminds me of the old Groucho Marx joke.  The two months before the diagnosis and the one year since have been quite a journey and at this point one I’ve come to enjoy – most of the time.  When the “1 year anniversary” started to come into focus for me, I was afraid to mention it out loud.  I was going to jinx it.  A year of waiting for the other shoe to drop has made me a little skittish, but I’m getting better. 

The first stop on this trip was around 2am on July 26th when I went to the ER at the hospital.  You’d think it was an easy decision to head to the ER when you can’t breathe and every breath feels like you’re being stabbed, but I didn’t want to go if it was “nothing” and Dale had to convince me it was serious.  I had, after all, been sick for over a month and steroids and antibiotics weren’t making me any better.  A CT scan had been done on July 22nd, but I didn’t have the results yet, so some crazy person inside of me thought that maybe I should wait and see what the doctor said about the results first.  I’m sure Dale wanted to throw me over his shoulder and just get me to the ER, but after more and more stabbing pains, I realized he was right. 

The ER was told about my CT scan so they got the results and let me know that I had a mass on my lung.  Actually, getting the results was not that easy.  The ER doctor, an arrogant ass with the bedside nammer of the aforementioned arrogant ass, told me I had lung cancer and then just shut up and stared at us.  Silence…nothing but silence and crickets.  Thankfully, the hospitalist came in soon after to admit me to the hospital and was not only the voice of reason, but was compassionate and kind – a good bedside manner.  She wasn’t happy that the ER doc concluded it was lung cancer since the CT scan only said “mass”.  The report didn’t have the word cancer anywhere in it and they could only tell what it was with a biopsy.  Plus I never smoked – it could be a lot of other things. 
Between Monday and Tuesday, I met the pulmonary doctor assigned to me and an oncologist.  The pulmonary doctor said that whenever they find a mass they have an oncologist assigned in case it is cancer, but it didn’t mean it was cancer.  I never smoked.  It could be anything.  The oncologist visited me too, but I didn’t pay much attention to her – it wasn’t cancer.  I never smoked. 

On Tuesday, I had a bronchoscopy so they could do a biopsy of the mass and figure out just what it was growing on my right upper lobe. 
Wednesday – July 28th.  The hospitalist came in and told me the results.  It was cancer. 

And I never smoked.

I went numb and then I cried and the words “my world crashed around me” were more real than I ever thought possible.  My mom died of lung cancer in 2002...but she smoked.  I never smoked.  Why me?  My oncologist was now just more than a nice lady who was never going to be my doctor.  She was good for me.  With everything going on, I knew she was THE oncologist for me and I looked forward to her visits every morning around 7am.  She told me to be positive – a positive attitude would really help me.  Positive attitude…I could do that.
I was released from the hospital on July 30th, but this is what I remember of that week.  I had lots of visitors and lots of flowers.  I remember the people who visited, but that’s it.  I put on a brave face, but I didn’t feel brave.  I was anxious and worried and the Xanax and other happy drugs made everything hazy, but I liked that.  I talked, but I don’t remember much of what I said.  I know I made people laugh, so I guess I was funny.  And at times I talked and talked…just words because I really don’t remember. 

August came and went.  I really don’t remember.  There were visitors and they brought food and I liked visitors because I could pretend to be brave and not think about that thing on my lung.  First I was numb and then I buried my head in the covers – literally and figuratively. 
September came and went – the month of the river of tears.  “Boo hoo September.”  I was afraid and I was sure that if I lived to see 2011 that I wouldn’t live much longer than that.  However, by the end of the month I was tired of the tears and tired of being anxious and depressed.  I asked my oncologist for an anti-depressant and got one and then – after tender prodding from a friend, my sisters and Dale – I asked my oncologist about a therapist or anyone I could talk to about this overwhelming sense of doom.  I hated it.  It wasn’t me.  She told me they always recommended Cancer Family Care so I called and started going one on one [I wasn’t ready for any group sessions] and I also started Guided Imagery – something to help me relax and heal. 

Both started in October – the month I started to help myself.  And see the light at the end of the tunnel…and it wasn’t a train.  And I took the cover off from over my head.  And I started to breathe again…and smile a real smile. 
November was a month of discovery, but I was happier.  There was still a cloud over me and it was shrinking, but there was still sadness about the future.

We usually put up our tree the weekend after Thanksgiving, but I didn’t want a tree.  I didn’t want to celebrate Christmas.  It could be my last Christmas.  Bah humbug!  But then it finally hit me.  I loved Christmas and all of the craziness and hustle and bustle.  I don’t know why, but it reminded me of my mom and her smile and whether she really liked Christmas or not, it always seemed to me that she loved it.  And then it really hit me.  What if it was my last Christmas?  It could be anybody’s last Christmas and they just might not know it.  None of us knows what the future holds – we only have today.  If this was my last Christmas – and I really didn’t know – then I didn’t want anyone’s memory of me and this Christmas to be sad.  I didn’t want anyone to remember me not celebrating Christmas and being Scrooge.  I wanted to enjoy it and all of the things you do – shop and wrap and bake cookies and visit people and listen to Christmas songs and put up a tree.  So…we put up a tree and I started to enjoy life again.  And really smile…and laugh!  It was a beautiful month and every day since then has been a beautiful day. 

It doesn’t mean that I’m happy all the time.  I still get sad or mad, but they don’t last as long.  I don’t wallow in them.  What did I learn and what am I still learning?
I accept that I can’t change the past.  Coulda, woulda, shoulda doesn’t help – it only drives you crazy. 

I accept that I can’t control the future – no one can – cancer or no cancer. 
Today is the moment we live in and how we react to it and our attitude is the only thing we can control.  So I enjoy now.  I revel in the moments as they happen.  It’s true – stop and smell and the flowers – and look at things with new eyes.  Hang out with little kids – they know how to live in the moment and enjoy life. 

I enjoy life and I laugh.  I even laugh at my cancer because it makes my brain not work quite right all of the time and I say and do goofy things. 

Live in the moments as they happen and enjoy it. 
Live for today. 

“Live each day like it’s your last, ‘cause one day you gonna be right.”  ~Ray Charles
While my journey isn’t over, I didn’t get here alone.  So many people have helped me in so many ways and for that I am grateful.  I couldn’t have done it without my family, my friends, my co-workers, my oncologist, the oncology nurses, my therapist, my guided imagery coach, my internet friends…all of these people helped me whether they know it or not.  They have touched my life in ways I never thought possible and I hope in some way I’ve touched theirs too.

I can’t say it enough…thank you and bless you and my love to all.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Good News and Bad News...

I went to my oncologist today for my weekly dose of chemo plus the results of my CT scan from last week.  Let's start with the good news!

The mass on my upper right lung has shrunk again and it's now down to 1.1 x 1.5cm.  There is another lesion on my right lung that when from 1.7 x 2.4cm down to 9mm AND there is no sign of cancer on my left lung

With the good news, unfortunately, comes some bad news.  The spot on the left lobe of my liver grew another centimeter, but no new lesions were found.  Bones within the pelvis show a new lesion and the lesion on my iliac has grown. 

I received a dose of zometa for my bones today, but no chemo drugs.  Starting on Monday, August 1st, I will switch from gemzar as my chemo drug to taxotere.  Dale found out that taxotere comes from the bark of a yew tree, so he feels we are barking up the right tree this time! 

The taxotere infusion will be every 3 weeks and there will be another CT scan around the end of September to see if its working.  It looks like we need to concentrate the S.E.E. chants and dancing and all of the prayers to my liver and bones. 

While I'm very happy about the good news and not so crazy at all about the bad news, I'd rather get good news and bad news then just bad news. 

Thanks to everyone for your continued support, S.E.E. chants, prayers, hugs and well wishes.  I could not have gotten where I am today if it wasn't for ALL of you! 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cheers to Art!

My sister, Barb, found this great place to have fun with family and friends called Cheers to Art!  The first time I went was for our sisters "Girls Night Out in March and it was fun.  It's hard to describe Cheers to Art! but the best I can do is to say it's where you paint a picture [no experience required - really!!], listen to music and buy beer or wine too.  I think their web site describes it much better so check it out.  CHEERS TO ART!  If you live in Cincinnati the studio is in Maderia - you should definitely try it! 

My sisters and I decided to have a FUNdraiser at Cheers to Art to raise money and awareness for MS [Multiple Sclerosis].  The donations would go to our MS Walk team "The Spinning Wheels" and it was a great success.  The FUNdraiser was held on June 21 and there were 41 people in attendance.  We raised $410 for to help find a cure for MS.  It was a fun night and since it was such a success there will be another FUNdraiser at Cheers to Art! in September to raise awareness and money for lung cancer.  [Details to follow soon]

Here are some pictures from the MS Night at Cheers to Art! 

I'm not sure what they were doing, but Malachi is smiling at whatever Dale is saying and Dale is being Dale!  I'm not sure if that's an Uncle Sam or Smokey the Bear imitation. 

My sisters Liz and Pattie getting ready to paint their picture of the sunset.  Thanks to Liz for putting this all together - with the help of Pattie and Barb.

My sister, Julie [far left] and Dale [in the middle] with Julie's co-workers.  Do I see beer?

My nieces Sara and Jenny [left and middle] with my cousin, Mary. 
See how this place makes every body smile?

Tony with his interpretation of the sunset.  Abstract art at it's best!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

In Remembrance

Wednesday, July 13th was the anniversary of my Mom's death. I wrote a remembrance for the blog, but after looking through pictures I had to add to what I wrote I decided that as trite as it may sound, a picture is worth a thousand words. All of these pictures make me smile. Miss you, Mom!
Mom played the clarinet, saxophone and piano and was in a bad called The Klever Kids.  She is in the first row, 3rd from the right.
Mom is 5 in this picture and is already stylin'!  Black became her favorite color as she got older and I have to say, I like the hat!
This is Mom at the age 7.  You can tell that they added color to the picture and I would assume Grandma curled her hair.  I like the halter dress she is wearing too. 
Mom is about 18 in this picture.  I know she met my dad when she was 18, but I don't know if this was taken before or after she met him.  I have a feeling one of my sisters know. 
Mom and Dad loved to dance so this was not an uncommon sight.  How about the blue pants Dad is wearing?  He loved to wear colorful pants and yes, he did golf.  There is no date on this picture, but I would put it sometime in the late 80's or early 90's.
This was taken when we lived in Hartwell.  Mom had 2 dogs at this time and I don't know if this Duchess or Duke. I guess we would need a different shot to determine the dogs name.
This picture is dated February 1944 which means she would have been 16.  I'm not sure the occasion for this picture, but when I was young I thought she looked like a movie star in this picture.  I love the lace stole and her smile.
I had to add this picture becaues it looks like her head is sitting below her shoulders or that she has no neck.  This was on her First Communion day.
This was taken in 1946 in Florida. Isn't this kind of bathing suit back in style?  She was engaged to my dad at this point because she kept the letters he wrote to her while she was in Florida. 
This was in 1957 at the Lexington Horse Park.  Liz was born in December, 1956 so she must have stayed at home with Grandma.  From left to right is me [age 4], Pattie, Mom, Ellen and Tom.  Pattie is acting as if she likes me, but she did love to torture me.  I was an easy target, so I don't blame her. 
I've always liked this picture of Mom with my brother John.  This was taken at his wedding in October, 1999.  Mom is 71 in this picture and she looks so good!  And believe it or not, her hair is not dyed... that was her natural color. 
Mom is 11 in this picture and I love the whole picture.  Her shiny dress with her shiny saxophone and her shiny tap shoes.  Yes...tap shoes!  She would play the sax, sing and tap dance.  And she did it on the radio too.  I always thought that was funny - tap dancing on the radio! 

This is on her wedding day - November 28, 1946.  My sister Barb and my niece Jenny wore this dress on their wedding day too.  I wonder now what she thought seeing her daughter and her niece get married in her dress.  I wish I would have asked her.  She looks happy and it's the same smile I remember growing up that was always such a comfort. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

At Last, (and not the Etta James song)

it's been a long time since the blog has been updated, way too long aand i'm sorry about that.
i don't know where to start, (probably reading the last couple posts would have been good, but it's been so long that even i can't remember where it's at)
so, lets start in April, that's when things really started happening.
by now, everyone knows that jackie retired from anthem the 15th of april, (after almost 40 years on the job)
what most people don't know is that the last week, in and around all the fair well, and good luck parties, we got some bad news.
while the chemo was working on all the spots, and dots, and engaged lymph nodes, even clearing several, and giving jackie much clearer breathing and such,
a new spot was found in a scan on her liver.
with additional looking and scanning, it was determined that there was a new spot of cancer that was growing there, even while everything else was shrinking.
her chemo changed that week, and she went to a new treatment that now is a weekly dose of a different chemo.
(she is adapting well, and her new curly hair is still hanging on and acting however it chooses to)
we are not at a point in time where the doctor is ready for another round of scans, but jackie's mood, and drive, and all those other indications of well being are just fine.
on the regular side of life, several weeks ago, we went to St. Pete, in Florida to celebrate Chris and Sara's wedding.
it was a fantastic trip, did us both a lot of good, and we even got to see some homeless guy from the beach play the music at the wedding.
(no, wait... that was no 'homeless' guy, that should have said 'jobless' guy, me!)
the day after we returned i started a new job, (real job, no contracting), with Catholic Health Partners and so far, my badge is still working to open the doors every morning. (it appears that we DO need 'stinking badges')
other high points since the last posting are:
- there is now a new back door on the bodmo' house! (ok, it's big news to us)
- i turned 58 last week
- this week we had a very successful, and very fun MS fundraiser at 'Cheers to art' in maderia.

for upcoming news:
- gretchen and brian are getting married in Julaugust
- jackie and i both have 40th high school reunions this summer. (this makes me feel older then the whole 'turning 58' thing)
so, in the coming days/weeks/months, i think that our newly retired, and queen of free time, jackie, will be updating the blog, with occasional guess visits from me!

sorry for such a dry spell, but hey if i can't neglect my bloggly duties, what can i do!