Thursday, December 24, 2015

12/24/15 But you look so great!

Dear family and friends,

Merry Christmas Eve!  "For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given...and He shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace."  (Isaiah 9:6) He has been all those things to me during this third round of chemo to treat my metastasized ovarian cancer.

As you know, I came home from Europe in late October to learn my cancer was back--in my abdominal cavity and some spots in my lungs.  I began a new chemo treatment called Doxil which is infused through my port every 4 weeks.  After treatment number one in November, I only had two days of nausea and not much loss of energy.  I thought this would be a cake walk!  But Doxil is a drug that builds up in your system over time.  After treatment number two this month, I had a full week of constant nausea (but only vomited once).  I have learned to time my anti-nausea pills so I can eat small meals, but no food sounds good at these times.  On the bright side, I have not gained my traditional five pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas!  Immediately after the week of nausea ended, I caught a horrible cold, and pretty much sat in an exhausted heap for four days straight.  I'm coming out of that now, going on short walks again, but notice that my energy is indeed lower than normal and that this is most likely my new normal for the next several months.

My hair is thinning, but I still have plenty, and when people see me they inevitably say, "but you look so fantastic" or "you look like the picture of health!"  LOL.  What I look like on the outside has nothing to do with what's happening on the inside--poison running through my veins, making me sick and weak, and hopefully, killing some cancer cells along the way.  

In thinking about all these "outer me comments," I have realized that life is like that for everybody.  I see people and I think they look great on the outside, and I assume they are physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy.  But on the inside, what I can't see, might be an entirely different picture.  When we ask how people are, they say "fine, how are you?"  But perhaps they are coping with a chronic illness, depressed, lonely, fearful, stressed, grieving, questioning their purpose in life, whether God exists, or who knows what else.  

When my kids were little, I taught them this verse that I love--"Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."  (1 Samuel 16:7)  This Christmas, and in the new year, I hope to do this too, and to enter into honest one-on-one conversations with people that get below the surface and let us share what is truly going on in our lives.  

I want to close with one final verse that I have been meditating on and clinging to during the many sick and weak days I have had this month.  "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." (Hebrews 6:19)  "This hope" came to earth as a baby in a manger who would become the Savior of the world.  Thanks be to God.



P.S.  Please pray that the chemo will be killing the cancer without killing me, and that my thyroid will normalize without needing a radiation blast.  

P.P.S.  Below are some pictures from a wonderful trip to Hawaii the first week of December (before the nasty chemo number two)!

Daniel heading out for a snorkel in the crystal clear water in front of our hotel!

I love this photo taken on a walk along the shore. Big Island, Hawaii.

A little bit of Christmas in paradise.

A fabulous snorkel site called Two Step.

We get these rings at the ABC store for less than $5.  They bring countless amounts of joy to us!

Yep.  Love floating in our rings!

On a boat trip to go night snorkeling with the manta rays.  We swam for an hour with nine of them, four inches from our faces!

One of our favorite beaches--Mauna Kea.

I've been told I'm too upbeat in my blogposts.  That I can't truly be cheerful while in chemo.  I can't help it.  Cancer doesn't rob me of the joy of being alive each day!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

11/17/15 MRI was today

Hey, friends!  Guest blogger Steve here.  Long time, no write...thought I would give you a break, but now I'm back with a brief update. 
There's a silly folk song about "the cat came back", which is actually a scream, especially if you don't like cats (and perhaps even if you do).  The narrator talks about all the things he or his pals do to the cat, but it always comes back, usually the very next day.  You see, they thought he was a goner, but he wouldn't stay away.  I am sure you have heard it.  If not, thank heavens for You Tube (try the Muppets is especially good).  Boy the things people did to that poor little cat, but he always managed to come back.  You get my drift.
Well, it's funny if it's a cat.  Not so funny if it's cancer which comes back.  Darnit.  Well, it's back, and we are going to be just as dogged at getting rid of it as those people in that song.  If it comes back, we'll do something else.  In the song, a guy pays a kid a dollar to get rid of the cat.  I won't say's morbid.  In our case, that verse would start out, "So she showed her health insurance card to the pharmacy tech who mixed up some poison in just the right amount..."  Yep, that's what we're doing, poisoning this cancer. 
So, here my hero Gabrielle is starting a fresh round of chemo this week (Doxil) with a much more intrepid "can do" attitude than I could ever hope to muster.  I don't know much about Doxil other than three things: 1.  It is supposed to help knock back that persistent cancer (see "the cat came back" stuff above).  2.  It is starting to make her hair thin, even after a few short days.  3.  For some reason it has made her better at Scrabble.  I don't know what the mechanism is for any of these things, just observations I have noted (doctors love to know about mechanisms of how things work).
On top of that, she has had horrible pain in her right hip bone (actually the ileum) for several days, which was getting concerning for possible bony spread of the cancer.  She has been fairly miserable the past few days and has had to resort to taking a few stronger pills than aspirin.  This morning, she had an MRI of the hip.  Turns out, the bones look good!  Praise God!  The source of the pain was an inflamed butt muscle tendon (that's the lay term for it).  Yep, the ol' gluteus was the culprit!  In the next few days, she hopes to get a steroid injection to quiet things down. 
We have been quite uplifted that the scan was good and that this was just a little bump in the road.  At the same time, we have several friends who have not seen such favorable results with their medical tests, so we like to remember them in our prayers as well.  So that's it for now. 
Wishing you all the best on this blustery November day.  And remember, Thanksgiving is coming soon.  So much to be thankful for, even amidst the hard times. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

11/10/15 Cold feet!

Dear Friends and Family,

Yesterday I sat in the chemo chair for 3.5 hours, with Daniel letting me win at Scrabble, and chemo number one out of six is done!  I reacted with some nausea in the afternoon and evening, but still, popped an anti-nausea pill and went on a four mile walk.  Better living through drugs!

Today, on day two of this cycle, I have felt quite well.  I got in another one-hour walk, with hills, and haven't needed one anti-nausea pill yet!  

What I DO have to endure, however, is cold hands and feet for the next six months.  The best way to prevent hand and foot syndrome, where your skin gets a rash and blisters then peels off (!) is to wear loose, cotton clothing, and to keep your hands and feet cold and moisturized all day.  So I don't wear socks at home and continually apply lotion on my hands and feet.  I also sip ice water and swish with salt water all day to help prevent mouth sores.  

As usual with cancer, there is good news and bad news.  The good news is that my echocardiogram showed that my heart is in good shape!  This is good because Doxil can be harmful to your heart in rare cases.  The bad news is that the CT scan of my lungs showed the cancer has spread to my lungs.  The spots are small, but they are there and they are new from previous scans.  The doctor's take on this is "if the chemo works (my new drug, Doxil), it will work both on the cancer in my abdomen AND in my lungs.  So our prayer request is that the chemo will work on ALL the cancer!  

As the doctor showed me the scan of the spots in my lungs, at first I was fearful and about to tear up.  But then I pictured Jesus standing there--in front of me, behind me, and beside me.  Encompassing me completely with His peace, and calming my fear.  And this entire week, I have been meditating on the song "In Christ Alone," and feeling peace knowing that God controls my destiny from life's first cry to final breath.  Thanks be to God.  Here are the song lyrics for you.  May some of the words speak to you and bless you today!

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I stand.

Standing in His power,
Instead of a photo of me, here is a photo of my sweet godson, and great-nephew, Jericho. He fills me with joy!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

11/3/15 It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

Dear Family and Friends,

Dickens was right.  Life sometimes takes you swiftly from good times to bad, and sometimes you experience both at the same time.

On September 26, Steve and I flew from Seattle to Istanbul, where we spent the next nine days experiencing the thrill of touring in Turkey and the Greek Islands.  Almost immediately on arriving in Turkey, however, my stomach began to hurt.  It wasn't just pain, but also a feeling of indigestion, heartburn, and extreme fullness after eating even small meals.  We hoped I had picked up a bug or was having some simple gastritis (inflamed stomach lining), so we bought some Prilosec at a Greek pharmacy to reduce the acid production in my stomach.  While it didn't stop my symptoms, it calmed them enough that I was able to notice them, but also keep my concerns on the back burner as we left Greece for Spain, where Daniel would join us.  

During two beautiful weeks in sunny Spain, the symptoms continued, and I began to worry that my cancer might be back.  Despite my worries, with God's help, I fully immersed myself into the joy of walks, hikes, Mediterranean swims, and drives around the Costa Blanca region of Spain.  When Steve returned to Seattle, Daniel and I continued in Spain and then ended our trip with five days in London.  While exploring British museums and parks and seeing plays at night, I began to realize my stomach symptoms were ever present and were most likely cancer.  Upon arriving home, a CT scan confirmed my suspicions.  My ovarian cancer is back for the third time.

The good news is, the cancer is not in my internal organs.  My liver, kidneys, pancreas, gallbladder, and upper colon look pretty amazing for a 55-year-old!  Unfortunately though, it is in some abdominal lymph nodes which have significantly grown since March.  One of these enlarged lymph nodes presses on my pancreas and one presses on my aorta and vena cava.  The presence of these cancerous lymph nodes taking up space in my abdominal cavity seems to be causing my stomach symptoms.  And of course, you don't want the cancer to travel from your lymph nodes to any other part of the body!

Thus, I begin my third chemo regimen on Monday.  We will be using a time release chemo drug called Doxil this time, administered through the port in my chest once every four weeks.  We will re-scan in three to four months to see how it is working.  The potential side effects are nausea, hair loss, heart damage (no thanks!), and a thing where your hands, feet, and armpits get sore rashes and peeling skin.  Please pray that the Doxil will kill the cancer and that I will experience minimal side effects.  Thank you!

Additional good news is that to avoid the armpit skin symptoms, I am to avoid anything that will make my arm rub against my armpit, including VACUUMING, SWEEPING, AND DOING DISHES!  Woo hoo!  I've got a "get out of housework free" card for the foreseeable future!  :-)  Poor Steve, Renee, and Daniel...

I enter this "hat trick" round of chemo with a lot of gratitude.  I'm thankful for the wonderful time in Europe that preceded my new diagnosis and shored me up for what lies ahead.  I'm thankful for an expert gynecological oncologist who always knows exactly what to do when I have a recurrence.  I am thankful for good strength going into the chemo from all the exercise I had in Europe.  I'm blessed with great friends from so many sectors of my life who are faithful in praying for me, and who have offered to help us with whatever we may need, such as meals or a little housecleaning now and then.  I have the world's best husband and kids in Steve, Renee, and Daniel, who love me fiercely and will care for me with the utmost devotion and compassion.  And last, but most important of all, I have a 40-year strong faith in God, Who will never leave me or forsake me and Who will continue to help and sustain us through the unwelcome journey of cancer just as He has in the last two years.

I close with the song that keeps playing in my head, and the joy in knowing that despite my health challenges, it is well with my soul.

  1. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
    When sorrows like sea billows roll;
    Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
    It is well, it is well with my soul.
    • Refrain:
      It is well with my soul,
      It is well, it is well with my soul.
  2. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
    Let this blest assurance control,
    That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
    And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
  3. My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
    My sin, not in part but the whole,
    Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
    Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
  4. For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
    If Jordan above me shall roll,
    No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
    Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
  5. But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
    The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
    Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
    Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
  6. And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
    The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
    The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
    Even so, it is well with my soul.


P.S.  Let's end with some Europe photos!

Philippi, Turkey. The Apostle Paul was imprisoned in this spot.

Virgin Mary's House near Ephesus

Colosseum at Ephesus where Apostle Paul spoke

Colossus of Rhodes

Our Regent Seven Seas Mariner cruise ship!

Altea, Spain vegetable market with my aunt Julianne!

The colorful town of Villajoyosa, Spain

Eating fresh, hot churros y chocolate at the famous Valor Chocolate shop

Walking around Altea, my aunt and uncle's Spanish town, at night

Hiking to a lighthouse in Albir, Spain

Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Uncle Oliver, Aunt Julianne, and me on my favorite beach at Villajoyosa

Pretty fall scene with fat pigeons at Regent's Park, London

Curtsey for the Queen at Buckingham Palace

Heaven on earth--the bakery at Harrods!

World's second largest Chihuly at Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Dressing to go into the Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul

Mykonos, Greece

Ceiling of the Hagia Sophia Mosque

Kids in Istanbul having their "coming of age" celebrations dress like princes and princesses. Hagia Sophia in background.

A pretty mosque with gorgeous blue tiles everywhere

Spice Market in Istanbul

Our spacious room on the cruise ship!

Swimming on island of Crete. Visibility to 30 feet!

Everyone's favorite Greek Island--Santorini!

We hiked along the coast from town to town in Santorini!

Foxy husband on Island of Mykonos with it's red roofed windmills

Daniel and me on beach at Villajoyosa

Daniel on a hike in Spain

Every year we go to Altea we climb the spiderweb on Altea Beach!

Daniel and me on the beach promenade between Altea and Albir

Hiking I Fach in Calpe, Spain

Daniel with I Fach rock in background, Calpe

This is the life. Villajoyosa.

Along the waterfront in Altea

One of many views from the Altea Old Town hilltop where my aunt and uncle live

Apparently this is my deli in London!

Daniel didn't know what a phone booth was until he saw one in London

Our final London meal--world's best Indian food!

Last night in London we happened upon a red carpet movie premiere. Pictured here is movie actor Vin Diesel!