Tuesday, April 21, 2015

4/21/15 I'm still here!

Dear friends and family,

Gabrielle here.  I'm sorry it has taken me so long to do a blog post!  Our computer was dying and I finally have a new one!  

Let's start right off with the wonderful news.  My March 6th ovarian cancer scan was CLEAR!  Thanks be to God for the gift of more cancer-free days ahead.  I will be seeing my oncologist every two months and my next scan will be in July.

However, the past few months have not been without some health challenges.  Since January I have been treated for near daily migraine headaches that began after my mom died October.  I am on a drug called Topamax that has stopped the headaches completely!  Next week I see the neurologist and we will discuss weaning off the drug now and seeing if the headaches will stay away.  Please pray that they will.

Next, after that great cancer scan, I headed off to Palm Springs with my childhood best friend, Renee, to celebrate.  Our daughter Renee is named after Palm Springs Renee!  Well, we were three days into our trip and off exploring Joshua Tree National Park when I experienced severe pain in my lower left abdomen.  It intensified until the next morning at which time I could barely move without crying.  I called Steve and he sent us off to the ER, where we spent eight hours learning that I had diverticulitis with a micro perforation in my colon where the infection was.  I was put on two strong antibiotics and a clear liquid diet.  But that night, I popped a pain pill and off we went to watch a professional tennis tournament we had tickets for.  I got to be chauffeured around in a wheelchair!  If there is one thing I've learned through cancer it is to keep living your life through it and squeeze out as much joy from each day as possible.  On my plane flight home, I noticed that one of my three diamonds was missing from my wedding ring.  So if you are going to Palm Springs in the near future, keep an eye out and you might find a treasure!

I tell you about the diverticulitis because it had a very serious consequence on my future cancer treatment.  My oncologist told us that now that I've had a micro perforation, I am no longer a candidate for the cancer prevention drug, Avastin, that I had been taking every three weeks.  Avastin can cause horrible, life-threatening perforations in 1.7% of the patients who take it so I am now off the list.  The Scripture verse God brought immediately to my mind when I got this scary news is Psalm 20:7 "Some trust in chariots and some in horses but we trust in the name of the Lord our God."  When you are in a battle, you can either trust your equipment or the One who is stronger than all the equipment and your foes combined.  We are trusting God to keep my cancer from growing back without Avastin.  Please pray and trust Him with us.

Once the diverticulitis was gone, along came a little urinary tract infection.  I had gotten to day 7 of the antibiotic, my last pill, when the doctor's office called and said "Oops--we forgot to get back to you to say the strain of your infection that the lab cultured needs a different antibiotic, so now you need another week's worth." Every morning I'm drinking yogurt smoothies to replenish my poor stomach's probiotics!

Lastly, over the last month my legs were aching like crazy.  And not only aching, they were shaking a bit and unsteady on stairs.  I saw my rheumatologist and my Lupus is back.  So he just finished a  mercifully short, three-day high dose steroid pulse and I am feeling SO much better!  In fact, I have had four mile walks each of the last three days!  

All of the minor health issues I've suffered in the last few months pale in comparison to cancer, but when you experience pain for any reason (physical, emotional, etc.) it's still suffering and it's hard.  Whatever ways, large or small, that you might be suffering right now, I am going to pause and say a prayer for you as soon as I hit "post" on this blog post.  Because I get it.  And I wish you relief, joy, peace, and hope ASAP! 

Love and blessings,

P.S.  Steve and I are in Cannon Beach right now watching the wind, rain, and waves pound the sand.  Beautiful.  Here are a couple photos of us from this morning's walk!  The little blue jellyfish are called velellas.  They are like little sailboats that float on top of the ocean and land all over the beach.  Gorgeous.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

2/21/15 Good week, bad week

Dear family and friends,

Steve here.  Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I seem to recall a famous novel begins "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  It's not as great a novel as the one that begins "Call me Ishmael," or "He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff..." but that's beside the point.  Well, that's what this week has been like for us in the Dudley house--not the Ishmael part, the other one about good times, bad times, that is.  It's probably best to end on the positive stuff, so here's the "bad week" part.  And, I need to say that it's not like the novel "the worst of times."  We've definitely had worse (see entries from January, 2013, for example.) 
Gabrielle went in for her blood test and Avastin infusion on February 17 (Tuesday) and things went fairly well, except the CA-125 blood tumor marker had risen to 23.  Previously it was in the mid teens.  It is a little concerning, but nurse Janelle said not to worry too much as lots of things can cause a bump in the number, including inflammation and other things like that.  With how achy Gabrielle has been, perhaps that's it.  Still, we didn't like the news and are eager for the next appointment with Dr. M in 3 weeks to hear her spin on things.  Right after the infusion, Gabrielle went on a walk with Daniel and next thing you know, this horrible yip yip dog rushes up to her and takes a chunk out of her thigh.  The nit wit owner was unapologetic and said that he was "just being friendly."  Yeah right.  In a way, I am glad that I wasn't there, as I would have been more than happy to show Ms. Nit Wit some "friendliness" in return to her little "poochie woochie."  The Olympic event hammer throw comes to mind.  I would be willing to bet that I could have gotten that dog all the way to the mid-channel buoy in Puget Sound with just the right spin and release from the leash.  Of course, it would have put my good standing as veterinarian emeritus in jeopardy as we are supposed to be kind to animals (which is why I trap spiders and let them go outside rather than squashing them like everyone else in this house).  Gabrielle finishes her walk and limps into Rite Aid where the kindly pharmacist gives her a tetanus booster (don't they have "distemper" shots for dogs??).  I got home about the time she and Daniel did and I helped dress the wound (fortunately, no stitches).  I finished the job by patching her up with a very special bandage that the kids bought which was adorned with a certain word that I ought not relate in this family oriented blog.  It was a fitting word, though.  Rhymes with...well never mind.  So that's Tuesday. 
Next day, it's her birthday.  Happy ____th, Gabrielle.  Being a gentleman, I cannot tell you how old she is other than to mention that three big things are open to her: the senior discount at IHOP, the senior discount at Fred Meyer, and eligibility in those "55 and over" communities.  She's already got the brochures out for Sun City!  But it didn't get off to a great start: sore leg from the dog bite, sore arm from the tetanus shot, and sore all over from just being achy (Avastin does that).  Her energy was at a low point, but she still managed to walk around Green Lake with Aunt Julianne and go on a second walk with Anna from SPU...7 miles in all. 
And since then, energy has remained at an ebb.  Then, out of the blue yesterday, she gets a "stomach bug" and it wasn't due to my cooking.  I could go into more details as to the exact nature of what that entails, but I will leave it to your imagination. 
So that's the bad news, got it?  Now the good news...
We had a delightful birthday week celebration for Gabrielle.  Ever since the cancer diagnosis, birthdays are never things to be dreaded, but rather embraced, as they represent life and living and moving ahead.  We've certainly embraced Gabrielle's umpteen years with us so far and are excited for many more birthday celebrations to come.  We had a wonderful dinner at the Melting Pot, though were too full for cake afterwards.  One of our traditions at birthdays is to go around the table and say three things we like about the birthday person.  It wasn't hard to come up with a few nice things to say about her and it reminded all of us how special she is not only to us, but to many others as well. 

A little side story here (if I knew how to make italics, that's what this would be)...
When I was a kid, we used to do this "fun" tradition of giving the birthday boy the "bumps."  It's a lot of fun.  You grab your victim by all fours and then bump him up and down on the floor...one bump for each year of age.  Don't know how it started, but in a family of four boys, we all sustained a lot of bumps over the years.  Gabrielle was able to take a pass this year, owing to her achiness.  Next year, perhaps?  Sadly, I missed brother Mark's birthday bumps yesterday (53), but Paul is coming up soon (I forget how many), then the big Kahuna John himself who hits 60 this summer (won't those bumps be fun?). 

Interestingly, we got home too late for presents, so we vowed to do them the next night.  That didn't work out either, nor the next, so she still has yet to open her birthday presents (today perhaps).  Not to worry...I think she has already guessed what I got her...it is just too tough to disguise a mop and bucket no matter how creatively you wrap them.  On her birthday, Gabrielle came home to wonderful flowers on the porch and a gift bag from someone else.  She had an extra long massage and then was treated to some home baked bread from her massage therapist.  Cards and letters keep coming in, wishing her birthday greetings, and she's been taken to numerous b-day movies and lunches.  In short, many have reached out to her to tell her how much she means to them, and that is indeed a blessing as well. 
So today is Saturday.  We really need to get those presents opened, especially the mop...floors are getting a little dusty.  So we better hop to it.  Pardon me...there's a spider on the ceiling.  I will have to excuse myself while I gently relocate him to the great outdoors.  Oh, and there goes a yip yip dog out front...let the games begin!  I will end with another first line from a book "I am a sick man..." (Notes from Underground).  Cheers.

Friday, January 9, 2015

1/9/15 It's been two years today.

Hi, folks.  Steve here again.
We had a delightfully restful time over Christmas which I don't need to bore you with.  We'll just leave it at "aloha" and you can fill in the blanks.  Though, I am sure that Gabrielle plans to upload a few pics of me in my Speedo on some sandy beach, so that's definitely something you'll want to skip (fair warning). 
On a more immediate note, Gabrielle went in for her latest Avastin infusion yesterday.  In the process, they checked the CA-125 (the tumor marker), and it had gone up from 14.1 to 16.5.  It is still well within the normal range, but it is inching up and I don't like the trajectory.  Goal is to keep it under 20.  As a reminder, it was around 135 when she was diagnosed two years ago today.
In spite of our wonderful time in Hawaii, it hasn't been easy for Gabrielle lately.  Starting in October, shortly after her mother passed away, she started getting daily migraines which have persisted till now.  We don't know why, though theories abound.  Is it a drug side effect?  Persistent stress?  Just the way it is?  Anyhow, they are pretty debilitating and that's just not good.  In addition, her blood pressure, which has always been rock bottom, has gone up to the point where she is now on blood pressure medication.  That last problem is a side effect of the Avastin.  And the back pain continues.  But she is a trooper and is still maintaining a cheerful and upbeat attitude through it all.
I will finish by telling you that today is an anniversary, if you will, albeit a dubious one at that.  As I mentioned above, it was two years ago today that Gabrielle was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  It was a day that forever changed our lives.  It has been quite a journey since then...many sorrows, tears, fears, but also a lot of delights and joys as well.  We have been the recipients of an outpouring of grace, love and many acts of kindness and are humbled by your kindness to us.  I wrote a note to a patient yesterday who had just shared news of her sister's ovarian cancer diagnosis in November.  In the note, I mentioned the word "journey" as well.  It seems that's a good metaphor as journeys have their ups and downs, waysides, pleasant vistas, storms, etc.  However, I also told her that perhaps another word to use would be "Shanghaied".  I don't know if that's a politically correct term or not, but it alludes to the fact that people would go into bars on the waterfront, and then either get conked on the head or have something slipped into their drinks to knock them out.  Next thing you know, they'd be at sea hundreds of miles from port, impressed into service, unwilling sailors to say the least.  Talk about recruiting strategies!  Well, that's what this feels like.  Nobody ever asks to get cancer.  It is thrust upon them.  But it's here and we need to deal with it.  And Gabrielle has weathered the problem of being Shanghaied oh so well and I am proud of her.  She is my hero. 
Next month (dare I say it?), she turns 55.  Our mantra for the year will be: "55, it's great to be alive!".  Yes, cancer, makes you aware of the blessing of life and it is indeed a blessing to have her with us and we are spending time living in the present and wringing as much as we can out of it.  Blessings to you too. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

12/5/14 Scan Report

Dear friends and family (all readers!),

It was a week of trying to trust God, but frequently giving in to worry, stress, fear, and binge eating chocolate to calm my nerves.  At last the moment was here and off we went to the hospital this morning.  After drinking two large bottles of contrast solution, with another shot of it in my chemo port just for good measure, they CAT scanned my entire torso.  We then went straight to the oncologist's office to await the results. 

After the assistant took my blood pressure and other notes, my hero, Dr. McGonigle, briefly poked her head through a crack in the door.  We held our breaths and locked eyes with her, trying to read the news in her face.  Then came forth the two best words we could possibly hear: "It's good!"  We breathed, broke into huge grins, and began to thank God together while waiting for her to come back a few moments later for her full visit with us.  Oh my goodness.  I am still in remission from my advanced ovarian cancer!

The long and short of it all is that the scan showed no cancer and the one worrisome clump of lymph nodes remain stable.  I will continue with my maintenance infusion of Avastin every three weeks (which starves cancer cells so they can't grow), and barring any new symptoms or bad blood work, I get to extend my three month chemo break this fall with another 18-week chemo break!!! 

That means I won't be nauseous, sad, or fearful at Christmas, at New Year's, on Valentine's Day, on my 55th Birthday [2/18 if anyone's wondering ;-)], on Daniel's spring break, or on Daniel's birthday (April Fool's Day). 

I will close this short report with two HUGE thank you's.  First, I thank with all my heart (with every fiber of my being!) those of you who have prayed with me and encouraged me in a million ways on this unwelcome journey.  I honestly don't know how I, or my family, would have made it through the past two years without you.  And second, I offer unending glory, praise, and thanks to God my heavenly Father, who is always in the boat with me during stormy seas, keeping my head above the waves, calming my fears, and without whom I would have no hope, peace, or purpose for this life or the next. 

"He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed.  Then they were glad because they were quiet.  So He guided them to their desired haven.  Let them give thanks to the Lord for His loving kindness.  And for His wonders to the sons (and daughters!) of men!  Let them extol Him also in the congregations of the people.  And praise Him at the seat of the elders.  Psalm 107:29-32

Love, joy, and peace to you all this Christmas!  Now I'm off to watch a cheesy Hallmark Christmas movie which will have just what we need after the week we've had--a happy ending!


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

12/2/14 It's that time again

Dear Family, Friends, and all the people who have read our blog that we don't even know (!),

Gabrielle here.  For those who follow the church calendar, last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent.  Advent's Latin root means "coming."  (I don't know Latin...I read that in my Advent study book!)  And in my church on Sunday, we began our yearly time of remembering what Christmas is all about--that Jesus came to earth to show us God's love, reconcile us to God, and bring us hope.  Thanks be to God!

But there is another thing "coming" for me--in just three days.  My next ovarian cancer scan.  Scan week is something we start to dread when we get about two weeks out, and the fear and anxiety for me starts to snowball when I get to the final few day's countdown.

So I thought you might be interested to hear how I tried to calm myself down on this cold, sunny Tuesday in December.  I awoke late, after much trouble falling asleep last night, threw on my swimsuit and sweats, ate some breakfast, and went to my 10AM appointment with my therapist.  She and I first met when I needed some help accepting my diagnosis of Lupus ten years ago, and over the years, I have headed in for "tune ups" as we call them, whenever I feel the need for a little extra help.  After a great session relieving some burdens with her, I headed straight to our public pool and swam for a solid hour, praying the entire time.  It was very calming casting all my cares, for myself and others, on God, knowing He cares for us all.  (1 Peter 5:7)  And if you are a swimmer, you know the peace you find as you immerse your head, the noise of the world drops away, and you feel the whoosh of the water rush over you.

With my hair dripping wet, I headed to Costco because we needed some bottled waters and toilet paper.  Never, never go to Costco when you are starving and worried about your cancer scan!  I couldn't believe the "0's" I saw when the final item had rung up.  Retail therapy.  Gotta love it.  After unloading the packed car, I ate some lunch and sat in a comfy chair to read my devotional readings for the day.  But after, I was still having anxious thoughts about the scan.  What if the cancer is back?  How will I tolerate a third five-month round of chemo??  How much longer do I have on this earth?  How should I be ordering my days?  And on and on it went.  So next I did one of those relaxation exercises Daniel had on his I-Pod to help with med school stress.  It lasted 12 minutes and you relax your entire body, focus on your breathing and try to let go of your stresses.  I don't normally believe in that stuff, but research has actually shown it helps, as it calms your brain into releasing less cortisol (stress hormone) and sick people do better.  I did feel better.  But not better enough.

So I went and had an hour-long massage with my favorite massage therapist, Dee.  Wow, my third therapy of the day.  That tells you how anxious I've been, for sure.  And Dee, being her sweet, giving self, handed me a bag of homemade rolls she made today to take home to the family for dinner. 

I arrived home to cheery Christmas lights, and a little gold box with a drawer in it, suspended from my golf ball on a string that keeps me from bashing my car into our refrigerator as I enter our garage.  A note on the box said "Mom--Open This."  Inside was a beautiful note from Daniel, telling me how much and why he loved me, naming some of his blessings, and with a wonderful Scripture verse that I will share with you in a moment.  I then ate a lovely dinner with Steve and the kids, including 1-1/2 of the BEST homemade rolls you have ever tasted.

And now, relaxed, full, and decidedly more peaceful than in earlier stretches of this day, I am writing this blog post.  I am asking once again for your prayers that my scan might show "no new evidence of disease" on Friday morning.  What a blessing that would be for my family and me to enjoy a FOUR-month chemo break, after the glorious three-month break we have just had. 

I am guessing you have some worries and anxieties this Advent season as well.  In the past week alone, I have encountered friends and family who are homeless, in poverty, in poor health, without jobs, worried about their kids, and experiencing loss and loneliness.  Most nights of our lives are not like in Silent Night, where all is calm and bright.  But God came.  He came for me, and He came for you.  He loves us.  He is with us.  In Him we can find hope and peace through cancer and all of life's trials (with a little therapy thrown in now and then for good measure). 

Now here is the verse on Daniel's note to me:  "I have told you these things, so that in Me, you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."  John 16:33

Love to you all,

Saturday, October 18, 2014

10/18/14 Can you help?

Dear family and friends,

Sorry to post twice in one day!  I just wanted to say, one of the things that has really been stressing me out, aside from cancer and my Mom's sudden passing this week, is the near homelessness of my sister, Xan, her daughter (my niece), Molly, and Molly's new baby, Jericho--one of the sweetest babies you could ever know.

Please take a peek at this link my niece Maggie put together (Maggie is Molly's older sister) and see if you can help, even in a small way.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.  I love you all!



Friday, October 17, 2014

10/17/14 Joy and Sorrow

Dear Friends and Family,

This past week, I have been thinking a lot about joy and sorrow, which C.S. Lewis said are two sides of the same coin.  If you love someone, you will experience the greatest joys life has to offer, but also the deepest sorrows.  Both are part of "the deal."

First, let's talk about joy.  I just spent a glorious two weeks in Altea, Spain, at the home of my beloved Aunt and Uncle, Julianne and Oliver.  The first week, Renee, and my dear friend, Maribeth, accompanied me.  The second week, Steve joined me.  We had marvelous sunshine on all but one day.  We walked, hiked, swam, talked, read, learned about the battle of the Christians and Moors at the Alhambra, visited numerous other small towns on the Costa Blanca, and bought way too much beautiful Spanish pottery.  We also ate the world's best paella and I ate my weight in hot, freshly made churros dipped in warm, thick, chocolate sauce at Spain's famous chocolate shop, Valor.  Lastly, my brilliant daughter and aunt both whipped me at Scrabble! 

From intense joy, to the deepest sorrow, I returned home Sunday night, slept a little, then received a call early Monday morning that my Mom had been taken to the ER.  For the next 24 hours, I was there with her at Northwest Hospital, and she died Tuesday morning at 7:30 AM.  She had a septic infection, blood clots, falling blood pressure, and respiratory failure.  Here is what I wrote about her on Facebook this week:

"My Mom died an amazingly peaceful death on Tuesday, October 14th, at age 75, surrounded by family.  I miss her already, and after 24 sleepless hours in the air and another 24 in the hospital, I am depleted.  Mom was one of the smartest, most generous women I knew.  She was a pioneer in a formerly all male field, running successful advertising, marketing, public relations, and public affairs firms until age 70.  She taught her three daughters they could grow up to be or do anything they dreamed of, and deserved equal pay for equal work.  She gave up alcohol and cigarettes, then helped countless women she sponsored in AA to change their lives for the better.  She loved her four siblings, three children, 10 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and many wonderful nieces and nephews.  She also loved good food, mystery books, the Serenity Prayer, Fox news, all things Republican, Cannon Beach, family dinners, having her hair done and her toes painted, shopping, laughing, a good rom-com, and making babies giggle.  She gave up her four-year art and national merit scholarships half way through Stanford to give birth to me, raising me courageously as a single parent for the early years of my life in an age when many women would have chosen to abort.  I have always been thankful for that gift of life, love, and sacrifice from her, as well as her stellar career mentoring advice.  Please raise a toast of your favorite non-alcoholic beverage to my dear Mom."

Steve sent me a comforting quote from theologian Charles Spurgeon, from his sermon on Psalm 31:15, "My times are in Thy hand."  It goes like this:  "The close of life is not decided by the sharp knife of the fates; but by the hand of love.  We shall not die before our time, neither shall we be forgotten and left upon the stage too long."  How comforting to know that indeed, our times are in His hands.

From deepest sorrow, springs forth a glimmer of joy.  On Wednesday, the day after my Mom's passing, I went to the Oncologist's office for the infusion of my maintenance drug, Avastin.  My blood work, including my ovarian cancer tumor marker CA-125, came back perfect.  As was my physical exam.  Thus, my doctor extended my nine-week chemo break for five more weeks!  My next scan will be just before Thanksgiving.  My Mom must be smiling down from Heaven at this good news.  One additional burst of great joy occurred two nights ago, when my sister-in-law, who it was thought might be permanently paralyzed after a spinal surgery five weeks ago, WALKED into our home for dinner with just one crutch!

I will close with an experience Maribeth, Renee, and I had in Spain.  We were walking home late one night after watching a parade as part of the Christians/Moors festival, when the most amazing lightening storm began.  We raced to a lookout point near our home in Altea that gives a panoramic view over the Mediterranean from north to south.  This lightening storm was like nothing we had ever seen before.  It had both bolt lightening and sheet lightening and it lit up the mountains, the sea, the towns, as far as the eye could see.  I wish you had been there.  It took your breath away.  As we watched, God brought a Christian radio song to mind, the words of which I will write for you here.  I sang it to Maribeth and Renee as we marveled at the gift of this storm.  The lyrics to "Light Up the Sky":

When I'm feeling all alone
With so far to go
The signs are no where on this road
Guiding me home
When the night is closing in
Is falling on my skin
Oh God will you come close?

Light light light up the sky
You light up the sky to show me You are with me
I I I can't deny
No I can't deny that You are right here with me
You've opened my eyes
So I can see you all around me
Light light light up the sky
You light up the sky to show me
That you are with me

When stars are hiding in the clouds
I don't feel them shining
When I can't see You beyond my doubts
The silver lining
When I've almost reached the end
Like a flood You're rushing in
Your love is rushing in

So I run, straight into Your arms
You're the bright and morning sun
To show Your love there's nothing You won't do

Light light light up the sky...chorus continued.

Through cancer and in my Mom's death, God lit up the sky to show me He is with me.  Thanks be to God that we are not alone in this life.

Thank you for your continued prayers for my good health and our family in this time of joy and sorrow.