Friday, September 15, 2017

9/15/17 You've Got to Be Kidding Me

Dear Family and Friends,

Nobody wants to get a phone call at 3AM.  You are startled awake and your mind begins to race.  Is it an elderly parent who has fallen and broken a hip?  Where are your children—are they safe in their beds?  Will it be the police telling you there has been an accident and you need to rush to Harborview Hospital ER?  Or could it be your Mom (my Mom, actually), calling your hotel room in Rome to tell you the U.S. has just bombed Libya, “which is only 600 miles from you—you must head north immediately!”  (Don't worry!  This happened in 1986!  No new Libya bombing!)  In general, 3AM phone calls are never good.  But neither are 3PM phone calls, as you are leaving University Village on an ordinary Wednesday.

Because it is no longer legal to use cell phones while driving and my Bluetooth was on the fritz, I pulled over to the side of the road to look at the call I was receiving and saw that it was from my oncologist.  Deep breath.  Mild panic.  Quote Scripture to self: “When I am afraid, I will trust in thee.”  Psalm 56:3

And then the bad news.  After a clear cancer scan in July, and only two months of remission, my CA125 ovarian cancer tumor marker had nearly tripled, from 26 to 71.  The high end of normal is 35.  The cancer is growing again.  YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!  I had just begun walking up hills again without getting out of breath.  My nose bleeds were winding down.  My appetite and other bodily functions were all normal again.  So many friends had sent me congratulating texts, cards, and e-mails for finishing chemo.  And I had just completed many days of planning, ticket purchasing, and hotel and rental car booking for our trip to Spain and Portugal this fall.  But here I was, on the side of the road, being told that I must return to the University of Washington Medical Center on Thursday, September 14, to resume my double drug chemo (Taxol and Avastin).  Quote another Scripture to self: “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

I asked the oncologist if I should cancel my trip to Europe.  “No—you should go!  We will just be sure to get in three, weekly chemos before you leave."  Chemo number one was yesterday.  I was going to go to chemo alone this time, as Steve and Renee were working and Daniel was taking a big neurology clerkship test.  But Daniel finished his test and surprised me by showing up just as I arrived for my appointment.  Hooray!  Company during the four and a half hours of chemo makes the time go by much quicker.  The only bummer was he used all seven of his letters on a word (which we call a “bingo”), got his 50 bonus points, and beat me at Scrabble. 

Remember when I told you that you should never attend a charity event that involves eating for three solid hours immediately after chemo?  Like I had done last year when I attended the Feast at the Market to support NeighborCare Clinics?  Well, as I hadn’t known I was going to return to chemo so quickly, immediately after yesterday’s chemo, Daniel and I drove an hour and a half to West Seattle to attend a gourmet event to benefit low-income senior housing at the Pike Place Market.  You start out eating two or three of each of the passed appetizers (fresh tuna, prawns, and stuffed mushrooms).  Then you head out to the deck, overlooking the water and Seattle skyline, and help yourself to all the fresh oysters you can eat from Taylor Shellfish.  Next you grab a plate and help yourself to an assortment of gourmet cheeses, crackers, and fresh fruits.  Oh, and you mustn’t forget to get a drink at the bar, of course, despite the fact that each course you will be eating later in the evening is paired with a perfect wine.   As alcohol and chemo truly don’t mix, I tried the dry apple soda.  Yum.

Next, you get to enjoy a progressive dinner, moving through three different round tables throughout the evening, each one hosted by a top Seattle chef!  The chef teaches you how to make his/her entrée right at the table, gives you the recipe, and at some tables, you are the actual sous chef, doing the chopping, stirring, or whatever.  At our first table, the chef from Purple Café taught us to make Dungeness crab cakes.  They were good, but honestly, not as good as Daniel’s crab cakes!  At our second table the sous chef from Salty’s on Alki taught us to make scallops, with a spicy rub, sitting atop fresh creamed corn with two sauces!  And finally, the head chef from Salty’s taught us to make fresh seared halibut with an asparagus, wild mushroom beurre blanc.  We completed the evening with one, perfect dark chocolate truffle, rolled in cocoa nibs. 

I had to pause at the crab cake table to stop eating and let a large wave of nausea roll in.  But the minute it rolled back out to sea, the eating continued!  During all this eating, there are pauses for raffle drawings and a live auction.  And at 10 PM, we headed home, amazed that I had eaten all that good food just a few hours after chemo.  Did I have a stomachache when I went to bed, which has continued through most of the day today?  Yes, of course!  Do I regret going, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!  J

One touching moment at the event last evening was when a woman sitting next to me at the scallops table overheard that I had just come straight from chemo to eat all this good food.  She then looked at me, and my closely cropped crew cut hair, and proceeded to burst into tears.  Not one single tear rolling down her cheek—these were heartfelt, gut-wrenching sobs, that would not stop.  I thought she must be the most empathetic person in the world if she was crying over me having cancer.  And indeed, she was very dear and sorry for my situation, but it turns out that she had just lost her beloved brother—her only sibling—to cancer.  I told her how very sorry I was, asked a lot about her brother and their close relationship, then gave her long hugs until she finally stopped crying.  Cancer is a word, a dreaded thing, a terrible memory or experience, that brings people together.  There is a community among those who have had cancer themselves, and those who have helped a loved one through cancer.  While it’s a group you never want to join, the fellowship with people whose hearts, souls, and minds have been deepened by hardship, and the lessons we have all learned along the way, can be rich and life giving.

I need to close with something that gave me the best chuckle this week.  The friend involved shall remain unnamed, to protect her reputation as a woman of the highest integrity (which she is).  We were sitting chatting and I mentioned my fear of getting on an airplane and traveling a total of 14 hours to get to Madrid when I will have very few white blood cells to fight off all those germs on the planes.  This individual, who may or may not work in the medical field, said I needed the special medical masks that the doctors and nurses use when working with highly infectious patients.  That I must wear this type of mask on all my flights.  I remarked that this would be great, but that Steve didn’t have access to these kinds of masks, as he does not perform surgeries or work with highly infectious patients.  To which this individual replied, with her Bible sitting on the table inches from her nose, “no problem—I will steal them.”  She then proceeded to open her notebook, the one sitting on top of her Bible, and made a written note “steal special masks for Gabrielle.”  Later she prayed and asked God to please forgive her for stealing the masks for Gabrielle.  LOL.  There are laws and rules that exist to keep order in the streets and in the workplace, but sometimes, one must choose to bend the rules ever so slightly to achieve a greater good.  I’m so grateful my friends have my back—always.    

Thank you for coming alongside my family and me, yet again, as we fight my fourth recurrence of ovarian cancer.  I didn’t give you very long to “rest” from your prayers, cards, and so many other acts of kindness that let us know we are not alone.  Please grab those kneepads you wear when you garden, get down on your knees, and pray with us for healing, strength, and that as always, we will find so much joy in even the hardest journey. 

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”  Psalm 94:19


Our new miniature dwarf bunnies--Haystack (left) and Sunny!

Hiking Ebey's Landing on Whidbey Island with Daniel's girlfriend, Adrienne, and our good friends, Lynette and LaVonne!

Steve and me in the "Zone of Totality" in Camp Sherman, Oregon, courtesy of our dear cousins, Bob and Becky!

Poor Steve.  He was working and missed mango margaritas, guacamole, salsa, and chips on the deck with Renee, Daniel, Adrienne, and me!

Captain Gabrielle on the Fremont Cut!

Vietnamese dinner made by Daniel and Adrienne, who was visiting for three weeks from her doctoral program at Columbia in New York.  She just got her Master's and RN this summer and now, on to the doctorate!

Jericho had a sweet treat and sweet play date with Adrienne's cousin, Mialea.  After visiting the water park and having lunch, they giggled for ten minutes before falling asleep in the twin beds in my new "Grandkids' Jungle Bedroom," formerly, Renee's bedroom!

Jericho's Dad, Trae, and his sweetheart, Monica, got married this week!  Congratulations to the happy couple!  As a side note, the judge's last name was "Fair."  Who wouldn't want a judge named "Fair?!"

After the wedding, we gathered at Monica's parents' house for a delicious Mexican feast.  Her dad gave a toast about how we are all part of their big, loving family now.  He jokingly crowned Trae a "Blaxican," (black Mexican), and us "Wexicans," (white Mexicans)!  Jericho and we could not have a more loving extended family!

One last photo of the happy couple, Trae and Monica--Jericho's beloved Dada and Momma.