Thursday, July 28, 2016

7/28/16 In sickness and in health

Dear Family and Friends,

A couple of weeks ago I entered a contest in Sunset Magazine to try to win a trip to Tofino, BC, which is on the Pacific Ocean on the west coast of Vancouver Island in Canada.  To enter, you had to write about why you deserved to win.  I wrote about wanting to win for my wonderful husband, Steve, and told them about the many ways he has fulfilled his promise, all those years ago, to love me, in sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live.  Guess what?  We won the contest, and in October will enjoy a fully paid trip to Tofino, courtesy of Sunset Magazine!  

In honor of Steve, and the tremendous gift from God that he has been to me, I want to share with you the words Renee spoke as she officiated our Vow Renewal Ceremony on the beach in Maui on our 32nd anniversary a year and a half ago.  Oh, and just so you know, the ceremony concluded with Daniel serenading us with two songs on his ukulele--Fools Rush In and Groovy Kind of Love.  As you will see when you read this, despite cancer and the struggles of having to consider my mortality at too young an age, I have had the best life, and I am so thankful to all of you who have played a role in making it so.  

Love, Gabrielle

Words shared by Renee Dudley as she officiated our vow renewal ceremony on our 
32nd anniversary!
December 18, 2014

Mom and Dad,

We are here together in God’s presence in this beautiful place to celebrate your last 32 years together and to witness the renewal of your commitment to one another.  The last time you stood together to affirm your love for each other, you were both younger than me.  And while twenty-somethings often think they know everything, you really had no idea what your futures together would hold. 

You didn’t know that Dad would finish vet school and move right along to med school.  You didn’t know Mom’s career in fund raising would take her all the way to the White House and then back to her alma mater, SPU.  You didn’t know you’d move from charming Pullman, to a flea-infested house in Linden, to a place in Lake City with a giant back yard, and then to a big house near King’s with an unbelievable four bathrooms.  You didn’t know you’d get to travel together to Mexico, the Caribbean, Alaska, all over Europe, and back here to where you honeymooned in Hawaii.  You didn’t know that you would have two amazing children—a gloriously good-looking and brilliant daughter, Renee, and also a boy named Daniel.  Who, to be fair, is talented and handsome to an absurd degree. 

You didn’t know 32 years ago all the joys you’d experience together—celebrating when each of you were published in various trade journals and newspapers; getting promotions and raises; finally buying a boat; vacationing in your favorite places; eating in incredible restaurants like Canlis and the Herbfarm; and watching your kids grow from cute babies to a future doctor and a future trust officer, both of whom love God and care about people. 

But you also had no idea, all those years ago, the trials that lay ahead—times of immense stress, loss, discord in our extended family, years of difficult graduate schooling and little money, and more health struggles than belong in any one family.  You didn’t know any of this was coming, but God did, and that’s why He gave you each other.  He knew even before you did that your life’s joys would be exponentially sweeter for being shared with one another, and more importantly, He knew you would need each other to get through all the trials.  Dad, even back when you were a little twerp running around Australia with not quite shiny enough shoes, God knew it would be Mom who eventually encouraged you through all your various careers and who listened to your worries and your doubts.  And Mom, back when you were marching into John Hay Elementary School asserting your right to wear pants to school, God knew it would be Dad who would one day hold your hand when you were diagnosed with cancer, and who would do anything to ease your burdens when you were discouraged.  It is so clear that God had you picked out for each other. 

I have watched with admiration over the years as you have leaned on each other and worked together through every hard time, each of you seamlessly picking up where the other leaves off.  In Deuteronomy 31, God promises:  “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  This can be a frustrating verse when everything is crashing down around us and we feel like God is nowhere to be seen.  But I believe that God’s presence in our lives most often takes the form of other people showing us God’s love.  When each of you was born, God promised never to forsake you, no matter what came.  He fulfilled that promise to you by giving you each other.  He has provided comfort and support through every trial in the form of your spouse.  You are each the other person’s greatest gift from God, and that is what we celebrate today. 

For 32 years you have done a remarkable job fulfilling the promises to each other in that Christmas-decorated church in lower Queen Anne.  And now we’re back in Hawaii, where you first celebrated your marriage, to witness as you recommit yourselves to each other.

[Then Renee said a beautiful prayer and Steve and I read our new hand-written vows, sobbing, and Renee concluded by having us repeat these vows she wrote for us]:

With this ring, I promise to love you, support you, care for you, and serve God with you, all the days of my life. 

There is no greater gift from God than to get to
walk through life married to your best friend.  :-)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

7/6/16 Recent chemo news

Hi, friends.  Steve here, just checking in with a quick update. 

     Yesterday was the second session of the more intense chemotherapy at UW.  Instead of a single medicine (Doxil), she is now getting that one plus one other one, carboplatin or cisplatin, I forget which.  Anyhow, it is hoped that the dual therapy will bring about more shrinkage in the cancer cells.  Unfortunately, it is indeed a two-edged sword, as with the added medicine, there are more side effects.  Whereas with Doxil alone, she would have a couple of lousy days and then be a whirlwind of energy for the rest of the month, this last dual session really took her to the mat for a couple of weeks (see previous post).  They did decrease the dose of one of the medicines, and that should help.

     It was a long day yesterday: 10:30 to about 4:30.   She had a nice visit with one of the nurse practitioners, Diana, who offered some helpful tips about foods to eat and such.  Upon finding out that Diana is an SPU grad, they had an instant connection.  I told Diana that she is lucky that Gabrielle is retired or she would have hit her up for a donation.  Labs looked good and the CA-125 (tumor marker) had even dropped a tad!  She got her medicine in, managed to order some tasty food from the cafeteria and squeeze in a couple of Scrabble games with yours truly to boot.  I am happy to report that I took full advantage of her sleepiness and won by a good margin on the second game.  I forget who won the first game.

     We are hoping for a stress-free day today, full of rest and relaxation--once she gets her chores done, of course--and since she claims "chemo brain makes me forgetful", I have given her a detailed list--I am so caring in that regard.  I have to work today, so won't be around to supervise.  After seeing the last pre-insurance amount for chemo, I am so thankful that we do have insurance through my work. 

     Since she will be home alone, she might like a cheery message or two via e-mail or Facebook.  She knows about Facebook and such and apparently checks it at least on a daily basis. 

     I will end with something I posted back in May, 2013, and which I just came across this morning while I was reading in the Psalms.  This one is for you, Gabrielle, my love...once you get those chores done (see list on kitchen counter)...

Gabrielle who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  She will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust".  

Psalm 91: 1-2 RSV*

(Revised Steve Version)

Chore police checking in...
Apparently, for a brief moment when my back was turned, Gabrielle got up and took one gander at the chore list then she was heard to utter something under her breath which I really ought not repeat here and then bolted.  Said that she was on her way to volunteer at Children's, holding babies and encouraging the families of kids who are staying there.  She left in a flurry, grabbing a banana and her sky blue volunteer jacket as she headed out the door in a blaze of glory.  Apparently, this chemo ain't gonna limit what she loves to do!
Now, I ask you, what's more important...ironing my socks or volunteering at Children's?  Kind of a no-brainer, if you ask me.

Monday, June 27, 2016

6/27/16 Opposites

Dear Family and Friends,

Sun and rain. Yin and yang. Sickness and health. Joy and sorrow.  Life is a series of opposites. Never was this more apparent to me than on our recent family trip to Maui.

When I planned the June trip, it was to be a celebration that six months of chemo was over and to enjoy time as a family before Daniel starts back to med school in July. Little did I know before paying for the trip, that I would not be done with chemo and in fact, would switch to a new oncologist and decide to start a more rigorous “double chemo,” two-drug regimen the day before our trip. Yes, I enjoyed eight hours of chemotherapy on June 7th and boarded a flight for Maui the morning of June 8th. Not really the best of plans.

Thus began 12 days of opposites that went something like this:
  • ·      Days of constipation and stomach pain—days of beautiful island sunsets.
  • ·      Days of diarrhea—days of sitting under a shady umbrella on a comfy lawn chair, looking at the ocean while reading a great book (and steps from the pool restroom)!
  • ·      Days of mouth sores and extremely painful tongue ulcers—days of beach walks, with my toes in the warm sand and ocean, and a good excuse to eat ice cream.
  • ·      Days of tropical winds so severe that the ocean was too rough to swim or snorkel in—days of snorkeling after the winds calmed down where I saw turtles, and fish of every color, size, and variety.
  • ·      Days of being unable to sleep near my husband because he was sick and I had no immune system—three days alone with him after he was better, enjoying the Maui film festival under the stars, a catamaran trip with three different snorkel spots in one day, and seeing one of my favorite movie/TV stars—Viola Davis—in the lobby of the Four Seasons hotel!
  • ·      Days of sadness as we processed together our family’s grief over the Orlando shootings and prayed for the victims and their families—days of reminding ourselves that in the end, God’s love, mercy, and grace will triumph over evil, hatred, terrorism—and even cancer. 

Yes, life is series of opposites. Ups and downs. Love and loss.  Hope and despair. But through it all, Jesus, who Himself endured the ultimate suffering for us, is our family’s constant companion. Today I read some of my favorite verses. “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5 "No," I remind myself when I’m sick, "I will not feel terrible every single moment of every day!"  And “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39 Thanks be to God.

How can you pray for us?  Please pray for my mouth sores to heal so that I can get my next chemo on July 5, for the chemo to work (!), for my PET scan that will be in another 2-1/2 months, and for strength for our entire family to continue on this unwanted and most difficult journey.  Thank you so much for your love, prayers, and support!

With love and gratitude,


On a May trip to Tucson with my dear friend, Doris, to see Barry Manilow and some good friends!

Taken by Steve at Cannon Beach where we went for a three-day escape in May.

Saturday joys, visiting the Science Center with Steve, Renee, and Jericho, shown here in the butterfly house.

A day trip with Steve to Deception Pass and Whidbey Island.

Renee took me to see Paul Simon's concert at Chateau Ste Michelle Winery!

Renee and Riley enjoy the pool at our condo in Maui.

Daniel and I on one of Maui's "red sand" beaches.

Steve and me on Makena Beach, also known as Big Beach.

This is the lawn I sat on, gazing at the ocean, and steps from a good bathroom!

Steve and I visited this goat dairy where they make the best goat cheese!

Disembarking from our catamaran day trip!

Steve as we hiked at Iao Needle park on Maui.

Oh how I love jumping into a cold, fresh water swimming hold on a hot day!

Ulna Beach where our condo was located.

Daniel and I attended the Maui film festival under the stars and saw movie/TV star Bryan Cranston (sitting 12 feet from us), and Steve and I had a nearly full moon as we waited for our film to begin!

Friday, May 6, 2016

5/6/16 Third Place

Dear Family and Friends,

Those of you who know me know that I am “a bit” competitive.  OK, I’m very competitive!  I love to win.  In my childhood, I made sure I sold the most campfire mints and Junior Achievement products.  When playing softball and volleyball, my teams often won the league championships and it was so satisfying—especially the times I had the most home runs or points served.  When working for Children’s Hospital, I wanted to be the one on the team who raised the most money, and most years, I achieved that goal.  And don’t get me started on canasta and estimate, my two favorite card games, and how hard I try to win when I play.  In all of the above, I would not say I’m a bad loser.  I don’t usually sulk, make excuses, or act ungraciously if I lose.  I just prefer to win!

In much of life we are compared to others with "places" assigned.  In the Olympics, you can come in first, second, or third, and win medals accordingly.  In high school or college, you can come in first, and be the valedictorian, or come in second as the salutatorian.  Likewise you can graduate cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude—if you are a brainiac.  And most ambitious people, as hard as they may try, will only achieve titles of coordinator, manager, director, or vice president at work—never president. 

There are rankings with cancer too.  When staging your cancer you come in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th stage, and as you know in these rankings, stage 4 is the worst news you can receive.  And when going through chemo, you can come in first place, receiving the best possible news—your cancer is gone!  Or in second—your cancer has shrunk!  Or in third—your cancer has stayed the same (i.e. is labeled “stable disease”), or in last place—your cancer is everywhere and it’s time to call hospice.

Yesterday’s scan put me in third place.  While one tiny lung nodule had disappeared and one had shrunk, all the abdominal area cancer remained unchanged after the past two additional months of chemo, making my total this round six months.  

This was hard news to take.  I had been feeling, overall, very well.  No abdominal pain.  Good energy.  Walking 4 miles most days.  Good appetite.  Tolerating the chemo well.  I thought for sure the cancer would have shrunk.  While I hadn’t dared hope for first place, I thought I would come in at a solid second.  I don’t like coming in third!

The doctor said we will continue on the same chemo regimen for now, rechecking in three to four months.  And I spent half the day yesterday shedding some tears while grieving the absence of the news I had hoped for.  But after awhile, Steve and I went for a great walk in the sunshine and came home to Cinco de Mayo dinner with Renee, Daniel, and Riley, complete with chicken and beef tacos, guacamole, and Steve’s famous margaritas.  There may have been cake at the end (both lemon and chocolate).  And as usual when hanging out with my great family, I enjoyed a house full of hugs, love, laughter, great conversations, and reaffirmation of our trust in God.

The Bible says in Psalm 30:5, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”  And Earl Palmer, former pastor of University Presbyterian Church used to say, “go ahead and cry over your disappointments, but then, after awhile, quit crying and decide what you are going to do!” 

So here is what I’m going to do.  I’m going to quit stressing about yesterday’s scan, keep going through chemo to fight cancer with all my (and God’s) might, keep trusting the God who orders all my days, keep taking walks in the sunshine, and keep those chips and guacamole coming (along with a very occasional margarita and slice of cake)!

Love to you all,