Friday, July 25, 2014

7/15/14 Of M&M’s and platelets

I just read an opinion piece in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  It was very well-written by an older doctor who is battling colon cancer.  She proudly proclaimed several times how she has no faith in anything other than hard science and material facts.  After all, she was raised without faith and that’s how she is living her life and apparently how she plans to end her years.  The last paragraph started out, “I’m in a foxhole and I’m still an atheist”.  Well, what’s this got to do with M&M’s, you might ask.  Simply this: she plays a little game with herself from time to time.  She grabs 20 M&M’s and makes sure the mix only has one red M&M.  Throughout the day, she’ll randomly grab one, hoping and hoping that it isn’t the red one.  Apparently, in this scientist’s world, she has been given a 1 in 20 chance of having the cancer come back (for those into percentages, let me grab my calculator and figure it out for you…will get back to you in a moment…5%).

So this scientist without faith in God or a divine plan is relying on a bag of M&M’s for comfort and solace during a terribly trying time in her life, and that makes me very sad.  She clearly understands that there is no connection between the tasty candies (she prefers peanut, by the way) and her cancer outcome.  Equally, if Gabrielle were to play that game, she’d have to toss a few more red M&M’s into the mix as her odds aren’t quite as rosy as only 5% recurrence rate.

But I’ve got a different spin on that same game:  all the M&M’s are green, every last one of them.  That’s because we can all rest easy knowing that there is a God, whether you are in a foxhole or not, or if your parents raised you without faith, or if you are battling cancer.  Gabrielle is right where God wants her to be, and for that she gets a big green light (or M&M to continue in the candy vein).  God is real and He is there, no matter the outcome.  This isn’t a silly crutch that the materialists accuse Christians of having; this is reality.  I am reminded of the words from the Bill Gaither song, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.  Because He lives, all fear is gone.”  And to that, I’ll gladly pop green M&M’s all day long, for I know full well that there is a Guiding Hand behind all that Gabrielle is going through, no matter where her path takes her.

So that’s my spin on the M&M game.  As to bringing you an update on Gabrielle’s health, she had some labs yesterday as she was feeling fatigued and winded when going up the long stairs at Richmond Beach Park with Daniel.  Turns out her blood count remains low at 27, but not enough to get a transfusion (historically, this has been when it was around 25).  Her platelets are quite low at 33, a darn sight lower than the normal range of 150-400.  So, whoever was successful in praying those platelets into the normal range last time, have at it again, if you wouldn’t mind (might help to take some green M&M’s into your prayer closet).  Her doctor told her to avoid anything that might involve falling or bleeding—no horseback riding, skydiving, bicycling or even tennis this week.  She even tried to tell me that since her platelets were low, she shouldn’t be chopping vegetables for dinner, even though I have never seen her cut herself in the kitchen, ever!  That’s my department.  Fine.

She is getting a lot of bone pain from the Neulasta shot, but that is starting to subside.  Fortunately, this is an “off week”, so she doesn’t need chemo today.  Instead, she is going to take advantage of her Friday off by looking at slabs of granite with Daniel (toying with new kitchen counters).  I tried to tell her that such an activity is potentially quite dangerous as granite, if it falls on you will almost certainly involve bleeding and perhaps quite a bit of being squished as well.  On the other hand, a kitchen mop is so soft and fluffy and nobody ever bled to death from a mop.  She is not having any of it and will head out soon. 

And that’s my update for today.  One last M&M story and I’ll be done.  When we were first married, Gabrielle gave me a throw pillow that was of a green M&M, so I have always been fond of the green color in particular.  Back in the 1980’s, magical properties were ascribed to the green ones.  So, go find yourself a bag of M&M’s, toss out all but the green ones, and pop a few on Gabrielle’s behalf.  While you’re at it, pop one for that doctor who wrote about her own cancer in JAMA.  There’s hope for her yet.  Have a great weekend. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

7/21/14 Just say no to crab

Dear friends and family,

Gabrielle here.  I am delighted to report that single chemo last Friday came off without a hitch.  The only thing off about my counts is my hematocrit is dropping again--from 35 after my last blood transfusion to 28.  The hematocrit is the percentage of the volume of whole blood that is made up of red blood cells.  As mine drops, I have less oxygen pumping through me and I get winded and my heart pounds upon going up inclines or exerting myself too in, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, etc!  ;-) We will keep an eye on it and I'm guessing either this week or next I will get another transfusion.

Daniel went to chemo with me Friday because Renee is on a mission trip with her LYONS (Lutheran Youth of North Seattle) high schoolers.  They will be doing a variety of inner city ministry/service in beautiful, foggy San Francisco.  I hope she brings me back a home made tube of salami from our favorite SF deli--Molinari's.  If you ever go to SF, you must eat a made to order sandwich at Molinari's.  Seriously--it's the BEST. 

We had a special treat over the weekend, with a visit from my junior high/high school friend from Chicago, and her daughter, from Dallas.  We went boating, but didn't take them crabbing because after Steve has caught 40 crabs in the past two weeks, I can't stand the thought of crab!  I was eating it all through a bad week of nausea last week and now have developed a strong aversion.  I realize this is a "first world, 1% problem!"  :-)

Thank you for your continued prayers, love, and support.  We love you back!


Friday, July 11, 2014

7/11/14 It's a Friday Miracle!

Dear friends and family,

  Gabrielle here.  Well, your and our prayers were answered.  At 8 this morning, my head oncology nurse drew my blood and sent it off to the lab.  She didn't look too hopeful.  As you recall, my platelets this Wed. were 61, having risen only 10 points in the entire week before that.  Now they had to get to 100 in two days in order for me to have triple chemo today.  After 30 minutes, we got the results.  My platelets were at, drum roll please, 138!!!!!!! :-)  Glory to God for this miracle of answered prayer and thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, to all who prayed so diligently for this amazingly great outcome!!!

  There with me to witness this miracle was my dear friend, Maribeth.  The smile on her face, and her rapid texts to all her friends who had been praying, multiplied my own joy.  Then Maribeth proceeded to pull out our project for the morning.  Learning to knit.  Me, not her.  Maribeth is a great knitting teacher.  I understood what she was saying and demonstrating.  And every now and then, I had a successful stitch (or knit or knitten or pearl or whatever it's called)!  But the end result, my two rows of knitting, left more than a little to be desired.  I will have to practice a few more times before deciding if knitting is my "sport," or not.  But kudos to Maribeth for her patience, and for choosing a coral yarn color that perfectly matched one of the stripes in my t-shirt!  :-)

  When Maribeth had to leave for work, my aunt Julianne came to relieve her as my usual chemo buddies, Renee and Daniel, are both in Portland today through Sunday for two weddings.  When Julianne arrived, we switched to a sport I am more familiar with--you guessed it--Scrabble!  Julianne is my ridiculously brilliant, articulate, and well-read relative, who also happens to hone her Scrabble game--and nurture her above-average little gray cells--by playing frequently against her computer.  After all our trash talk about how we would each beat the other into the ground, Julianne proceeded to destroy me by 70 points.  And I didn't even get Benadryl today, as a built-in excuse to make me sleepy and wreck my game.  In my defense, Julianne did get all the best letters--X, Z, Q, and J, for Julianne, who apparently is Scrabble champion of the world, masquerading as my aunt (only 14 years my senior) who resides, depending on the season, on Capitol Hill or in Altea, Spain.  As she sealed her victory, I quickly made a rule that the Scrabble winner had to buy lunch.  So off she trotted, hopefully feeling guilty for beating a poor, helpless cancer patient, but more probably, gloating all the way, to bring us back two types of sandwiches, kale salad, and kettle chips.  I may have to keep losing if this is what I get for losing!

  I have to tell you, I was amused yesterday, to get a sweet e-mail from my awesome college friend, Janet, from California, about how to raise my platelet count naturally.  She attached several websites telling me that I needed kale (good pick, Julianne), garlic, water, vitamin K, etc.  And then there was a very big admonition to REST the day before chemo for the best chance of the platelets growing.  I read that e-mail just after I had a) hiked 2.5 miles (one of which was all up hill) with my childhood friend Renee (for whom my Renee is named), b) canoed for an hour and gone swimming in Lake Washington with Daniel, c) gone to a dentist appointment, and d) gone to the pharmacy and grocery stores.  Oh, and the night before, Daniel and I attended our second of eight golf lessons in 82-degree heat.  Janet--please forgive me!  Forgive me again for ending chemo today by heading out crabbing with Steve in the 88-degree heat instead of staying home to rest.  I can't seem to help myself!  Rest is just so boring!  But now, while Steve is shelling four mammoth Dungeness crabs on the deck, I will close this blog post, take a cold shower, pop an anti-nausea pill, and head to the basement for a small crab salad, a nectarine, and a Netflix movie that arrived today (forget the name, but something French). 

  I wish you all a wonderful, healthy, weekend, with relief from the heat (if you are experiencing it where you live), and a renewed belief in miracles.

  "“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”
C.S. Lewis

With love and gratitude for you all,

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

7/9/14 Urgent Prayer Needed for Platelets!

Dear Family and Friends,

Gabrielle here.  You may have heard of "chemo brain," which is a the episodes of brain fog that can hit cancer patients after months of chemotherapy.  Well I experienced a big one today.

I thought today was Thursday, when in reality it is Wednesday.  So I jumped out of bed and raced to the hospital for my blood work to determine if I can get chemo on Friday or not.  After the blood work, I went on my one hour walk with my neighbor/friend, Laura, and during our conversation I mentioned that I hoped the blood work I did today would allow me to get chemo "tomorrow."  She asked why I was getting chemo on a Thursday instead of my usual Friday?  Oops!  I goofed!

When I returned home, I called my head chemo nurse and told her of my mistake.  She looked up the results of the blood work and I got good news and bad news.  The GOOD news is that my white cells and red cells are fine and that my CA-125, the ovarian cancer tumor marker, had dropped from 16 to 12.3!  Yippee and praise the Lord!!!

The BAD news is that my platelets have only risen 10 points in the past week, from 51 to 61.  Normal is 150 to 400.  Mine need to be at least at 100 in order for me to get chemo on Friday.  So the nurse told me to come in Friday morning at 8 AM as usual and they will do my platelet count again to see if it has risen to 100.  This is a mighty big long shot that they will go up 39 points in two days after only rising 10 points in a week, but I know that if God wants me to have chemo on Friday then those platelets will appear! 

So please pray with me today, tomorrow, and Friday morning that my bone marrow will jump into high gear and make 39 points worth of platelets by 8 AM Friday morning!

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever."  Eph. 3:20-21

Thank you SO much!


Sunday, July 6, 2014

7/6/14 Half liter bags and 24 calorie bottles

Dear friends and family,

Gabrielle here.  I'm sorry to have taken so long to do a post!  I WAS able to get my single chemo a week ago and offer thanks to all who prayed that my blood counts would pass muster.  The week following was/is my "week off chemo."  During that week, there are only two days of nausea and three days of bone pain from the neulasta shot to increase my white blood cells.  Well, the one other thing is--after single chemo, I'm at the place in my chemo cycle where my blood packs its bags and disappears, with white cells, red cells, and platelets all kissing me goodbye. 

Thus, last Wednesday I went for a vigorous walk with my next door neighbor/friend, Laura, and practically passed out on the inclines. I knew my blood was off, so I went straight to the oncologist's office after the walk.  Sure enough, I was down one full liter of blood!  Not enough red cells to pump the oxygen to my muscles on the hills, not enough white cells to fight infection since the neulasta shot hadn't kicked in yet, and my platelets, which clot blood, had dropped from a healthy 250 to 50.  Normal is 150 to 400.  If you see me and look closely, you will note I am covered with bruises from the missing platelets!

On Thursday I received two large bags totaling one liter of donated blood.  I am so grateful for people who donate blood so people like me can renew our strength.  As I was receiving blood on 4th of July eve, I was also feeling grateful for all who have shed their blood for our freedom and safety. We are so blessed to live in America, the land of the free and the brave.

On July 4th itself, with a full load of blood, my newly energetic self hopped into our boat and headed to Blake Island where I enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch, the world's BEST chocolate chip peanut butter cookies, and a vigorous 3.5 mile walk on the island trails.  My dear friend, Maribeth, joined us, and we had a blessed time chatting away as we lounged in the sun on the beach.  In the evening, Daniel and Renee's friends, Philip and Riley joined us, and we headed to Lake Union for the firework show.  It was spectacular.  Along the way, Steve ran into a patient family of his on their boat.  We had fun trading mini snickers bars for starburst candies by throwing them between the boats.  :-)

The last few days have also been full of CRABBING!  We have caught 24 crabs!!  Tonight we make our second huge batch of crab cakes which we both eat and distribute to neighbors and family.

In other news, my niece Maggie is visiting us from San Diego so she can meet her nephew, my great-nephew, Jericho, who is now weighing over five pounds!  He has the sweetest, easiest disposition of any baby I've known.  And my great-niece, Ariana, is being born as I write this!  What a blessing to see the new generations being born and to kiss the soft cheeks of these precious babies.

Would you please join me in prayer this week that my platelets, white cells, and red cells will all multiply like the loaves and fishes so that I can get my triple chemo this Friday?  And for patience with the four to five days of nausea and fatigue that will follow?  Thank you SO much!  I love you all!

Lastly, when I babysit my great-nephew, Jericho, who was a preemie, we feed him tiny preemie bottles that have one scoop plus two teaspoons of formula in them to make each bottle 24 calories.  As I was feeding him this past week, I was reflecting on how this round of chemo has not made me lose weight like the first round did.  Instead, I am up five pounds!  I am the one who should be restricted to 24 calorie bottles!!  Part of my problem is my inability to pass up the wonderful chocolate and desserts people so sweetly (pun intended) give us.  So my plea for right now is--we are good in the chocolate and desserts department for awhile while I tackle these five pounds!  But I reserve the right to change my thoughts on that at any moment!!  :-)


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!