Friday, March 23, 2018

3/23/18 Hills and Valleys

Dear Friends and Family,

Easter is just around the corner.  When I was a child, Easter wasn’t about Jesus dying on the cross for us and rising from the dead three days later.  For me, in my unchurched home, Easter was about candy!  Candy in Easter baskets and candy in plastic colored eggs, well hidden for three little hunters.  And my very favorite candies, by far, were those little speckled “birds' eggs,” which were malt balls covered in a crunchy, sweet candy coating.  I loved plain malt balls too, and in fact, they were my number one movie snack.  But at Easter time, something about adding the extra sweet candy coating on top of those malt balls made me swoon.

I’m sad to say the news I am about to share with you cannot be sugarcoated.  Things are looking a bit grim at the moment.  In the last six weeks my tumor marker has jumped from around 40 to 379.  As a reminder, a normal, healthy CA-125 marker is 0 to 35.  This jump is cause for much alarm, as even when I was first diagnosed with cancer in January of 2013, my tumor marker was only around 169.  I have reached a new high, which, as you can understand, has brought the Dudley family to a new low. 

When I saw my oncologist on Monday and we discussed that high tumor marker, she couldn’t believe I wasn’t doubled over in pain.  My stomach has felt a bit off, for sure, but no major pain to report yet.  The most recent drug we had tried, Topotecan, was a complete failure, as noted by the gargantuan jump in the tumor marker.  So yesterday I began yet another new drug combination to try to attack this growing cancer.  The new chemo drug is Gemsar, and I will continue to receive Avastin with it (Avastin is the drug that prevents the formation of the tiny blood vessels that feed cancer cells).  I wasn’t tremendously encouraged to hear that only 20% of ovarian cancer patients respond to Gemsar.  But as we know, someone has to be in that 20% and we will pray it will be me!  I will have a CT scan next Wednesday, right before chemo, so that will give us a better picture of what is going on with that ridiculous tumor marker number!

Looking out a little further, my oncologist is applying for a “compassionate use” approval of a non-FDA approved immunotherapy drug for me.  It is currently showing success in other types cancers and it may be something we will need to try if it is approved.  More on that later, if and when we get to that point!  But this is something else you can pray for for us.

I am delighted that Steve’s employer, UW Physicians, has approved his family medical leave act application so he can spend more time with me!  He is still working, but a greatly reduced (60%) schedule.  It cheers me immensely on the days he has off to attend doctor and chemo appointments and tests with me.  And to have the joy of his company on the regular days, too.  When I’m feeling badly, we play Scrabble and watch our favorite shows on TV.  We drink tea while reading our books across from one another in our comfy living room chairs.  And we go on walks, which vary in length from ½ hour on a bad day, to 1-1/2 hours on a good day!  This week we popped up to Vancouver for two days for fish and chips at Granville Island and a long walk at Stanley Park where we saw a Hallmark Movie being filmed!

I want to leave you with three thoughts I’ve been pondering a lot these past few weeks.  The first is a song I heard on Christian radio called Hills and Valleys by Tauren Wells.  The chorus goes like this:

“On the mountain I will bow my life to the one who set me there.
In the valley I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there.
On the mountain I know that I didn’t get there on my own.
When I’m walking through the valley, no I am not alone.
You are God of the hills and valleys, God of the hills and valleys,
God of the hills and valleys, and I am not alone.”

On my mountain top days, of which I have been blessed with so many, I want to always bow my life to the One who set me there.  And in the valley, where I am right now, I lift my eyes to the One who sees me there.  He sees me…He sees my family…and we do not walk alone!  “Eyes on Jesus” has been our family motto from the beginning, and we lift our eyes to Him yet again in this new valley.  You can listen to the beautiful song here:

Another thought I’ve been pondering came from my dear friend, Jen, who is in my weekly Bible study.  These wonderful women friends were praying for me one Monday, and Jen prayed “that God would hold my family and me so tightly through this trial, that it was as if we were swaddled like babies and wouldn’t have to flail around.”  Picture that.  A baby in great distress.  Crying out, arms and legs flailing all around.  In comes the parent, who takes the receiving blanket and swaddles that baby up like a burrito--so tightly that those little arms and legs can no longer flail.  The baby’s body can relax inside the tight embrace of the swaddle, and the safety of its parent’s strong arms and great love.  Slowly the tears cease, and the child is again at peace.  I love to picture God holding us so tightly that we are swaddled, in His arms, and can rest secure in His love and care.

Lastly, I have been thinking a lot about the grief people go through when they lose a loved one or even as they ponder a potential loss in advance—which my therapist calls pre-grief!  I am reading the sweetest novel right now called Arthur Trulov by one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Berg.  It is a story of an elderly man who loses his wife, and every day, he rides a bus with his lawn chair and sack lunch to the cemetery where he has lunch at his wife’s gravestone and talks to her.  Slowly but surely some ever so lovely people come into his life to help him along in the grieving process and help him experience love and laughter once again, when he thought he never would.

I don’t want to give away more, because you must read the book!  But I want to share a passage that has spoken to me.  Arthur is talking to a neighbor who is also grieving and he tells her that:

“When Nola first died, he thought he’d die himself, of the sorrow.  He says he’d read that grief has a catabolic effect and he thought for sure it would take him right out, this immense and gnawing pain, that it would eat him alive from the inside out.  But it didn’t.  It took a long time for him to shift things around so that he could still love and honor Nola, but also love and honor life, but it happened.  And it will happen to her.”

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, I hope you will find encouragement from this little quote.  I pray often for my family, who are each in some level of pre-grieving what may be coming for me, that they will know that God will give them every resource they need to get through the immense and gnawing pain of the grief that they will feel, for awhile, as if it will eat them alive.  And that He will bring them to the place where they can love and honor me, but also love and honor the long, beautiful lives that lay ahead for them.  Yes, every resource will be provided for them—friends, family, neighbors, pastors, their church home, therapists, the joy of a child or grandchild’s love and laughter, the daffodils and tulips blooming, soft, dear bunnies to pet, and best of all, God’s own faithful, loving, continual presence, holding them as tightly as a swaddled baby.

Easter blessings to you all.  He is risen—He is risen indeed!  And therein lies our hope.



My beautiful girls--Renée and Riley--all dressed up and volunteering at the Fred Hutch Gala!

A little blurry, but this is at Stanley Park and I liked the seagull standing on the statue of the girl in the wetsuit, a modernized version of the little mermaid.

Jericho staying warm until it's time to jump in the pool for swimming lessons!

Adrienne and Daniel celebrate his residency match day with a football-sized calzone!

My love, on our 1.5 hour walk at Ebey's Landing on Whidbey last week!

Celebrating with Daniel on Residency Match Day at UW!  He will be doing his residency in family practice at Valley Medical Center in Renton, where Steve did his residency!  It's a fantastic program!  So proud.

Daniel made this cake for match day--a Spanish almond/orange cake, traditionally decorated with the cross of St. James!

Steve is known at work now for being the doc with the cool socks!  I love these anchor socks, for they remind me that when we are anchored in faith to God, the storms won't blow us away!

Halibut and Chips at Go Fish at Granville Island in Vancouver, BC!

Steve and I made a trip through Lynden, WA on our way home from Vancouver, remembering our lives there when the kids were just one month and 21 months old!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

3/1/18 Sad News

Dear friends and family,

I wish I had better news to report, but unfortunately this entry is a bit of a downer.  At yesterday’s chemo session, my CA-125 spiked to a very worrisome 256.  It had been in the upper 60’s just four weeks earlier.  This is the highest it has ever been.  Even when I was first diagnosed, it was only 160.  After yesterday’s news, I’d love to see that again!  For the longest time, it was all the way down in the 20’s, so this is a big change.  A normal reading is under 35.  Although most of the time, it’s great to be above average, this isn’t one of those times!

So, I guess that new drug, Topotecan, is not working for me.  My doctor wants me to stay on it for a couple more weeks as she thinks it is too early to make changes.  We are hoping and praying that she’s got another drug up her sleeve that will be effective.  We will re-test my tumor marker three weeks from now after two more Topotecans have a chance to work (or NOT work, as the case may be).

The news was a big shock.  We had all hoped that the numbers were going to drop, or maybe go up just a tad, but this big of a change was something none of us expected.  But, in the midst of the bad news, I am thankful for so many things:

- That I have been kept alive this long, when most people with my type of cancer don’t even make it five years.  
- That I have the best family and friends a person could hope to have.  Everyone has been so kind, supportive and caring.  You are all very precious to me, and I hold you in my heart and thank God for you daily.  
- That, in spite of the rising numbers, I actually feel pretty good on many days (though other days it’s an effort to get up and moving).  Good enough, at least, to go for walks with Steve, eat without throwing up, and take advantage of free movies with the Movie Pass that the kids gave us for Christmas…next up: Red Sparrow!
- That tomorrow Daniel and I are going to see Hamilton!  We are soooo excited!  Praying that nobody will cough on me!  
- That Jericho is in swim lessons and loving them!  It’s hard to explain, but it is such a delight seeing this little “learning sponge” pay such close attention to his teacher, and get excited to be in the water.  He is learning new things all the time.  The world is full of wonders for him and he is such a happy kiddo that his joy is contagious.  I love him so much…even more than free movies!  
- Of course, I am also thankful for my faith.  I have said it before, but it bears repeating.  I don’t know how people can face a serious illness without faith in a loving God who watches over us.  He is not a crutch or a pie-in-the-sky aloof god (little “g” on purpose), but the lifeblood that runs through me, my reason for getting up in the morning.  Eyes on Jesus!  No other way.  "For in Him we live and move and have our being."  Acts 17:28

Well, enough for now.  Just keeping all of you updated, through thick and thin.  March came in like a lion.  Hopefully, it will go out like a lamb.


At Cannon Beach with my love of 35+ years.

Renée and Riley playing Ticket to Ride with me on my birthday!

Cannon Beach refreshes my soul--my favorite.

Jericho practicing floating hands at swim lessons!

Daniel and me buying fancy New York City cake at a pop-up bakery in University Village!