Friday, June 20, 2014

6/20/14 Record time on triple chemo today!

Dear friends and family,

Just a quick note to say I made it through triple chemo today in only 4.5 hours!!!  This is a new record time!  It's partly because I had the best chemo nurse, Janelle, and partly because I started at 8 AM--before the hospital pharmacy got too backed up.  And since you are probably wondering, I beat Daniel at Scrabble.  :-)

Once I got home, I have felt quite nauseous and "had to" lie down for three Frasier episodes.  Renee joined me on the king bed for that little bit of luxurious rest.  I can see a Frasier for the 10th time and still laugh all through it.  The best sitcom EVER.

When Steve got home, he and I managed a short walk to the pharmacy for some anti-nausea pills (the little ones that melt on your tongue) and some Excedrin (for the headaches the little nausea pills give you).  We also grabbed fixings for amazing wheat bran/wheat germ muffins.  My chemo makes me chronically low in magnesium.  Two pills a day, as they prescribed, makes my guts too sick.  So they told me to take one magnesium pill a day and to up my intake of high magnesium foods.  Number one on the list is bran!  A little further down the list is wheat germ.  I just ate a muffin, warm out of the oven, and it was so good!  That's dinner tonight, along with a few apple slices and some herbal iced tea.

I am so, so grateful I was able to get treated today.  I will think of that every time I notice my nausea and weakness this week.  And this sunshine doesn't hurt my mood either.  Thanks be to God for all His blessings!


Thursday, June 19, 2014

6/19/14 Triple chemo eve

Dear Family and Friends,

Good news!  After chemo was delayed a week due to low blood counts from the bone-marrow stimulating neulasta shot the hospital forgot to order for me, my counts are finally high enough to get triple chemo tomorrow.  Hooray!  Sort of.

It's such a weird thing.  You praise God and celebrate that your counts are good so you can go be filled with three poisons that will kill your cancer.  But with that comes your counts dropping back down to energy-sapping, potentially dangerous levels, and days of nausea and weakness.  Bittersweet, that's what chemo is. 

Dr. M decided to reduce my dosage tomorrow by 10% since my counts dropped so low last time.  My platelets had dropped to 28, for instance.  Normal is 150 to 400.  Ten or below is life threatening for an internal bleed that can kill you.  So she is adjusting my drug dosage to give me enough medicine to kill the cancer--but not me!  I'm all for that!

As usual, I have been living it up during these past couple of non-chemo weeks.  One highlight for me was tracking down my old college roommate, Shannon, and having lunch together on our deck after not having seen her for 25 or more years.  As I knew we would, we picked up right where we left off and had a great time.

A highlight for all four of us was spending Father's Day weekend at the home of a good friend on Shaw Island.  We explored beaches and trails, had a campfire with roasted marshmallows, read books, saw deer, seals, baby geese, and eagles, and of course, played lots of Scrabble.  During one late night game, Renee was constantly falling asleep.  When it was her turn, we would nudge her, she would stir awake, play a 40 or 50 point word, then snooze again.  She can beat us even in her sleep!  We started calling her an idiot savant for this amazing ability, which over the course of the weekend, got shortened to just idiot (spoken with great jealousy).  :-)

Daniel, the scientist, had a wondrous archaeological find on Shaw--a perfect dead deer skull.  Well, perfect except that the two jaw bones had disengaged from the head.  He soaked it in bleach and it's now sitting proudly on his dresser at home, soon to have the jaw bones wired back together.  To each his own.  The only things I want sitting on my dresser are a few photos, and perhaps a box of See's dark chocolates. 

Daniel and I have had two good adventures this week.  First, we played an hour of tennis the other day.  I haven't played in about 7-8 years.  It was SO much fun to play again, though now, due to lower blood counts and chemo, I had to rest every 10-15 minutes to catch my breath and re-hydrate.  Then yesterday we played Frisbee golf at a park that is a designated Frisbee golf course in north Seattle.  It is a super fun course with very long holes and challenging trees/bushes to go over, around, or in many instances--through, to get stuck in the middle.  We tied in Frisbee golf, but Daniel beat me 6 games to 3 in tennis--and that is with him going VERY easy on me.  Goal--to improve my tennis game to pre-cancer levels by playing once a week for the rest of the summer!

Renee is leaving this Sunday for a service trip with her junior high kids for a week.  They are going to a native American reservation in Yakima where they will do a variety of service while also learning about the culture of the people they are serving.  She hasn't been feeling too well this week, so please pray for her health and the health and safety of all the group as they head out on this trip.  I'm guessing she won't be resting much while there, in a cabin full of teeny-bopper girls.  Daniel thinks I'm the only adult on the planet who still says "teeny-bopper."  But I'm guessing some of you reading this remember that term. 

I will see if one of the kids can attach some photos to this blog post later.  Steve's very old laptop is no longer letting me attach photos!  Hence, I will be buying myself a new laptop in the next month or so, and Steve can borrow it from time to time if he plays his cards right (spoken by the woman who is earning $0/month and spending his earnings, our savings, and our insurance company's money, at a rate of about $8,000 per chemo treatment)! 

As I head into this triple chemo day and week, I am claiming God's promise of peace.  Peace for my mind, spirit, and gurgling tummy.  "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid."  John 14:27  I wish you peace, health, and many adventures this week!


Sunday, June 8, 2014

6/8/14 My Unremarkable Wife

For those of you who are interested in a few more medical details, we got a copy of the CT report in the mail yesterday afternoon.  The word that kept cropping up over and over again was "unremarkable".  That's Gabrielle, all right: unremarkable.  In medical parlance, that's a very good thing!  Here's the Cliff Notes version of the report:
The lungs are clear.
The heart, great vessels and mediastinum are unremarkable.
There are no abnormally enlarged lymph nodes anywhere in the chest.
The visualized skeletal elements are unremarkable.
There is resolution of the previously noted mass in the left lobe of the liver.
The liver is unremarkable, the spleen is unremarkable, the adrenal glands are unremarkable, the kidneys are unremarkable, the pancreas is (wait for it...are you seeing a pattern here?) unremarkable, the l'il ol' gall bladder is...yep, another unremarkable.  The bladder is mentioned as being full of urine and unremarkable.  It is not exactly clear if the radiologist is alluding to the bladder or the urine itself, but I think I will go out on a limb and say that what they heck...they can both be unremarkable in my book.
The largest lymph node has shrunk by half and two other lymph nodes nearby have had complete resolution.  Oh, I forgot one other one: the bowel is...unremarkable

It's funny when a word that usually has such negative connotations ends up being so positive and affirming.  If I went to a ball game and the pitcher had an unremarkable time on the mound, that wouldn't be all that great.  If someone had an unremarkable performance review at work, he'd be pretty bummed out.  If I was told by my financial planner that my investments were yielding unremarkable returns, it would be reason to find another planner.  On the other hand, I am reminded of a joke my dad used to tell about a remarkable pig.  It was one incredible pig, not a mediocre one (for details, should you want to punish yourself, I am including it at the end of this post and you too will see that it is one remarkable pig).

But that's medicine for you.  If something is positive that's bad.  If something is negative, that's good.  Nothing like a good negative X-ray to cheer someone up.  But anyhow, the message on the CT report came through loud and clear.  Gabrielle opened the mail, sat down and read it through a couple of times, stopping on each "unremarkable" and positively glowing and then she got a big grin on her face and said, "It's even better than Dr. M. had said.  I guess God wants me around a little longer."  To which Daniel corrected her and said, "A lot longer!"  Amen to that!

So, thanks once again for being on our rope team, in our corner, and for being such a remarkable set of friends, colleagues, prayer warriors for us.  You are more precious than you will ever know...and that's a kind of remarkable that I would like to see.

Well, before I end this unremarkable post, I need to tell you about a certain pig that was encountered by a traveling salesman...
This salesman shows up at the farmer's house.  In an effort to feign interest in the guy's place, prior to selling him a set of encyclopedias (or whatever else suits your fancy), he asks for a tour of the farm.  Horses, check.  Cows, check.  Ducks, check (Daniel wants one by the way).  Sheep, check.  It's like a scene right out of Babe.  However, when he comes to the pig sty, there's a pig in there with only three legs.  Guy naturally asks why, to which the farmer goes into great detail about what a remarkable, incredible pig it is.  He starts by telling him that once the pig broke out of his sty to alert the family that the house was burning down.  Remarkable pig.  Next, little Billy had fallen asleep right in front of the combine and the pig raced back and forth in front of the combine to stop him from threshing little Billy and turning him into a hay bale.  Remarkable pig.  Depending upon Dad's mood at the time, the set of amazing feats this little squeaker performed could go on and on, sometimes for 20 minutes in the telling, always with the refrain that it was indeed some remarkable pig.  Of course, we all knew the punch line and we sometimes would chime in with stories of our own, like how there weren't enough farmhands to harvest the apples, so the pig climbed the tree himself.  We'd all shout out in unison: "that's some remarkable pig!"  You get the drift.  Finally, the exasperated salesman says, "Yes, I understand all that, but it still doesn't explain why he only has three legs."  Farmer replies, "a remarkable pig like that, it would be a shame to eat him all at once." 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

6/5/14 Good news on the CT scan front!

Steve here. 
Today was the much anticipated, and equally dreaded CT scan.  We were delighted to get great news on the follow up CT scan which Gabrielle had this morning.  The scan went off without a hitch and then we killed time waiting for our appointment with Dr. McGonigle by wandering over to the nursery at Northwest Hospital where I got to meet my great nephew, Jericho for the first time.  Molly even let me feed the little nipper which was a big treat for me.  Last time I held anything that weighed so little was when I reached for a Talking Rain bottle (something I admit to having a slight addiction to).  Yep, Renee told me that when Jericho was born, he weighed exactly the same as a 2 liter Talking Rain bottle.  OK, on with the “even better than meeting Jericho” news…

We were ushered in to the exam room, complete with a lovely field of lavender displayed on the ceiling, so recipients of Dr. M’s exams would have something pleasant to look at.  Fortunately, no exam today, as we were there for, as Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”  It took a while to get the results, as the CT scan hadn’t been read yet.  When they did come in, Dr. M. had a big smile on her face and said that this was great news.  The previously seen spot on the liver was gone.  That’s the word she used: “gone”!  Just had to say it again, as it was such a delight to hear.  Also, the largest lymph node (near her stomach and pancreas) had shrunk from over 2 centimeters to about 1 cm…that’s a reduction by over half!  We don’t have the full report as it hadn’t been dictated yet, but that’s about the size of it.  We left on Cloud 9, unless there are any clouds higher up the cloud scale than that, because we were on them.  Hugs all around and a very emotional time, knowing that this was some great news after such an unpleasant setback a couple of months ago.  So, I guess the chemo is working and she’ll continue with more of the same for the time being.  Next dose is scheduled for after Father’s Day weekend, so we have a bit of a respite there.

We are all so thankful for your prayers and kind thoughts.  Gabrielle told me that everyone she used to work with at Seattle Pacific gathered for prayer for her right at the time of her CT scan…way to go, guys!  I have also gotten countless messages from many of you telling me of your continued prayers, lifting Gabrielle’s health up to the throne of grace.  It is truly humbling to be the recipients of so much kindness.  We are all dedicated to follow the great example you have been to us, and look for ways we can reach out to others in a similar fashion.  That’s what it’s all about: community, mutual support and kindness.  So don’t be shy about asking for prayers for your own needs.  We are happy to step into that ol’ prayer closet for you. 

Another bit of great news today, which is a little aside…and no, it’s not that Talking Rain is on sale somewhere, though that would be good too.  I just got word this morning that I passed my family practice board exam which I took back in April while Gabrielle was frolicking on Maui (see prior blog posts).  As some of you know, this was a huge stress as it only comes around once every 10 years and is quite time consuming to study for and take.  It is also expensive, costing well over $1,000 to take.  Now I’m done with it for another 10 years.  Very thankful to be done with that.  You don’t have to call me Sir or anything like that, though it’s fine if you do.  They call him “Sir Paul McCartney” after all, and he never passed a board exam. 

And so now, Gabrielle is resting on the couch.  The bone pain has just kicked in from the Neulasta shot she got on Monday and she also has a touch of…how do I put this delicately?  Well, let’s just say that I got sent to the store for some Imodium and let you fill in the gaps.  I guess that’s what swigging a liter of barium contrast material will do to you.  She is quite worn out and reading a library book called The Thin Woman which she says is pretty good…nice relaxing fare on a sunny afternoon. 

So that’s it for now.  I’m still walking in the clouds.  Now, get out
there and enjoy the sunshine! 

Friday addendum.  It goes without saying that the first recipients of our prayers are with the individuals and families involved in yesterday's shooting at SPU.  We are numb from it all.  So sad and cause for much prayer. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

6/2/14 Happy June!

Dear Friends and Family,
Gabrielle here.  It's a beautiful, sunny Monday morning and I am so thankful for the gift of life today--and for a free day with nothing on my calendar!  I get to rest, do little errands, read, walk, and if I have enough energy, I plan to make "Greek Cod Gabrielle" for dinner.  Yummo!

Last week was a whirlwind.  I did a "bit" too much, though all of it fun.  In the last four days I have had single chemo, gone to see the ballet Giselle, cheered on the Mariner's, enjoyed dinner and canasta with our neighbors, gone boating, and attended a beautiful wedding.  I loved it all (except the chemo), but boy, am I tired. 

A little glitch occurred on Saturday.  The day after "day 8" in the chemo cycle, aka single chemo day, I am supposed to go into the hospital outpatient surgery center to get my neulasta shot to build up my blood counts.  They called me at 1 to be sure I was still coming at 2:30.  I showed up at 2:30.  They put me in the chemo chair, took my blood pressure, and said they would run to the pharmacy to grab the medicine.  They returned (two nurses) saying the pharmacist had the order but forgot to order the drug and there was none in the hospital.  Very frustrating. 

So first thing this morning (Monday), I went into my own oncology office and got the shot, but now my triple chemo is going to be pushed back by five days until the 17th.  The three days of bone pain from the shot will be on Thursday, Friday, Saturday this week, so I will plan accordingly.

On a very happy note, my little grand-nephew, Jericho, was born to my niece Molly last Thursday while I was watching Giselle!  He came a month early, weighing 4 lbs, 3 oz.  He's in the infant ICU at the moment, with an oxygen assist.  To feed him, they put a tiny bottle nipple in his mouth, then squeeze in half a syringe of milk into the nipple for him to learn to suck out.  Please pray for him to gain weight, breathe well on his own, and have a safe, healthy transition home, which may be as soon as this coming weekend. Pray for Molly too, as she is a single mother and needs all the help she can get.  By the way, Jericho is the cutest little miniature baby you every did see! 

Looking ahead to this week, I have a huge prayer request for Thursday.  I have completed three cycles of chemo and Thursday at 9:45 I get my contrast CT scan to see if the drugs are working or not to shrink my cancer.  We meet with the doctor at 11:30 to go over the results.  We all have pits in our stomachs because most of the time, scans don't seem to produce the happiest news.  Please pray for some encouraging news on Thursday and for God's peace to rule in our hearts and minds this week.  Thank you!!

One other important piece of news is that both Renee and Daniel are now officially moved back home!  Hooray!  It is such a joy to have them here with us so we can support one another on this cancer journey.  I will say, our house is a bit of a disaster zone at the moment with stuff from both their households scattered about as we try to assimilate three homes into one.  If you stop by, just ignore the chaos!  Also, I'm pleased to report that Daniel finished his first year of med school last Thursday, acing his finals (90-100% on all) and he is now officially an "MS-2."  Today he began his summer job at Children's doing research with the pediatric otolaryngology team.  They will be studying laryngeal clefts in infants.  Questions?  Ask Daniel! 

Thank you for all the kindnesses that came our way this last month.  The cards, meals, flowers, desserts (!), etc. have been SO appreciated.  I am not going to name them one by one anymore, as I am too afraid of missing someone.  But believe me, we have been so blessed to know you are walking this journey with us and supporting us in so many loving ways.  Thank you again and again!

"For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you."  Isaiah 41:13

Much love to you all,