Monday, November 6, 2017

Wants and Needs

Dear Family and Friends, 

  The headline on Spain’s main tourism web page says, “Spain is what you want—Spain is what you need.”  I spent the first two weeks of October there, and let me tell you—truer words have not been spoken!

·      I needed time away from chemo to relax and recharge with family.  Somehow we squeezed eight people into my aunt and uncle’s 500-year-old home (lovingly renovated!) in old-town Altea, Spain.  Julianne and Oliver, our hosts, were there to greet us with an enormous pan of delicious homemade paella. Steve, Daniel, and I settled in for two weeks, and Renee, Riley, and Adrienne, each joined us for a week.

·      I wanted to see old friends—Paco and Esperanza, my aunt and uncle’s dear friends and home caretakers who live a few doors down and chat at me so rapidly in Spanish it’s as if they actually think I know what they are saying; David the photographer, who used to live across the cobblestones from our door, but who is now about one mile away in a rehab facility; Pepa, who runs a tiny bakery out of her home about a five minute walk from our front door and who saves my favorite pumpkin seed rolls for me; and my dear, sweet Ahmed—a handsome, newlywed waiter, originally from Algeria, who has worked a block from our door for years and who loves me (us)—despite the fact that we never eat at his restaurant because it doesn’t have enough Yelp stars!

·      I needed to lay on a lawn chair under an umbrella with a picnic lunch and a magazine, on my favorite beach in the nearby town of Villajoyosa, getting up from time to time to walk up and down the beach on the warm, beige sand, and to swim laps in the clear, warm, blue-green waters of the Mediterranean.  Oh, and I needed to pay $20 euros for a massage on the beach in that same lawn chair to help out a sweet young Spanish woman with five children…while helping myself into relaxation heaven!  And no, I didn't know that she would flip me over half-way through and finish the massage with me topless!  But heck--I was half-way around the world.  Who was ever going to see me again?  Except for my traumatized children!!!

·      I wanted to watch my huge basket of churros being made in the cleanest, most gargantuan pot of hot oil, and then to see them brought to our table piping hot, to be sprinkled with sugar, dipped in individual cups of thick, hot, homemade dark chocolate sauce, and then quickly devoured at Valor Chocolate shop, overlooking the sea, after a hard day at the beach.

·      I needed to visit the tiny town of Gata, where you will find the mother-son owned “Monfort” ceramicas shop of authentic hand-painted, Spanish pottery, and to buy my mandatory new bowls and plates to bring home to remind me of my trip.  I also like to bring home bottles of gold-medal winning Spanish olive oils.  Pottery.  Bottles of olive oil.  Steve wonders why I don’t collect tiny teaspoons when I travel.

·      I wanted to take Daniel to see the enormous, ancient castle in the seaside town of Denia, where I came upon a starving stray cat, and, having already eaten my own sandwich, proceeded to make the kitty very happy by feeding it Daniel’s turkey sandwich with garlic aioli.  Then we hit the miles-long Denia beach for swimming in crystal clear waters and watching a bikini-clad young Spanish woman hit on Daniel while her mother (and HIS mother) watched!  I quickly texted Adrienne not to worry—that I had her back! 

·      I needed to visit Spain’s third largest city—Valencia—as I had never been there before, and naturally, the day I chose for the hour-and-a-half drive up there was a Valencian holiday, so most everything, including the famous one-thousand stall public market that I had dreamed of seeing, was closed!  Having said that—we still got to see amazing old buildings with stunning architecture, got to drink fresh-squeezed Valencian orange juice and eat all manner of fresh baked things, got to walk for miles along a self-guided (I should say "Daniel-guided") and beautiful historic walking tour, and did get to enjoy the Valencia Aquarium, which is Europe’s largest, and thankfully, stays OPEN on holidays!  The dolphin show there was almost worth traveling around the world for—truly incredible, as were the SHARKS!

·      I wanted to stay healthy on this precious trip to Spain, since it may be my last.  My aunt and uncle are selling their home there after this fall, and despite three of the eight of us being sick in that house during this trip—God miraculously kept me, the one with no immune system, healthy!  Thank you so much, to those of you who pray for me.  I felt those prayers! 

   So I don’t know if the Spanish Tourism Office slogan hits home for everyone, but it sure did for me.  Those two weeks in Spain were exactly what I wanted, and what I needed, and what “filled my tank” to help me get through the sicker weeks to follow.

   As soon as I returned home from Spain, I had two weeks of chemo and then became terribly ill with a horrible head and chest cold, cough, and sinus infection.  I was unable to have the third chemo in the cycle due to how sick I was.  As an example of just how sick I was, I tried to vacuum our bedroom one day, and had to stop every two minutes to sit and catch my breath—there was that much crud in my lungs!

   Having said that, I am filled with gratitude to report that I am at the very tail end of that illness and am finishing this blog post in my chemo chair on Monday, November 6!  

   Would you please pray with me that I remain healthy enough to complete two more chemos before my break week at the end of November?  And that I have the wisdom to say “no” to events and even to visits with people I love so much who may have been exposed to bugs that will make me sick while I’m immunocompromised?  It’s tough—I'm a person who likes to see everyone and do everything, and who gets energized from being with people.  But I guess for now, seeing everyone and doing everything is not what I'm supposed to want nor what my body needs.  Somebody lock me up in a sterile room for a few months until chemo is over!

   I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Ours will be at home, very small, very quiet, and as germ-free as we can make it.

Love to all,

Gabrielle
 
The old town Altea hill my aunt and uncle live on has several viewpoints like this one.  They are good places to catch your breath as you walk up the huge hill from the beach or the town to the house!

Every Tuesday Altea has has a Farmer's Market at the foot of our hill.  The fruits and veggies are so fresh and inexpensive.  We buy many bags full, then look up recipes to make with them!

The Farmer's Market also has some things ours don't in Seattle, like olives and churros!

There are about 220 of these big, wide old cobblestone steps leading from the sea and downtown up to the top of our hill, where the church and plaza are, and where our house is.  It's easier to walk DOWN them, as we are here, than up them!

This is another viewpoint I like on our hill.  It is looking north to the town of Calpe way off in the distance and that rock you see, sticking out in the sea, is called Penon de Ifach.  You can hike up to the top of it--a very hard and treacherous hike which I have done twice.  But not this time!  

This is a photo of me standing in the clear water at Villajoyosa and the camera is looking back at the beach and town.  The houses are all painted in vivid colors.

Two of my precious ones--Renee and Riley!

Daniel, posing next to my aunt and uncle's house and bougainvilla.  As you can see, the narrow "streets" are cobblestone and pedestrian-only!

This is my uncle Oliver standing at the front door of his house.  The house is over 500 years old and he and my aunt renovated it when they bought it about thirty years ago, but they kept parts of the original wall on the main floor.  The bucket by the door is for us to rinse off our sandy feet after swimming at the beach!

This is the ceramics shop in Gata--Monfort!  You can get some inexpensive things here (like what you see in front), and some very pricey, high-end keepsake pieces by top Spanish artists!  

The homes in old towns in Spain have incredible doors.  Here is Adrienne, looking like a model, in front of one such door!

There is a town about an hour from us called Guadalest with views like this!  

We had only one day of rain in our two-week trip.  Of course, it was the day we hiked six miles along a mountainside to a lighthouse.  Here we are at the end of our hike, back home outside our house, looking like drenched rats!

Here, Riley and Renee relax at home, and note--the stones behind their heads are the original ones, more than 500 years old!!!

Daniel and Adrienne on the beach at Villajoyosa.  This is them BEFORE we fed them churros y chocolati!  

Renee and Riley having some fun with the floaty they bought for five euros.

All my sweet ones, minus Steve, at one of the many viewpoints on our hill.

My aunt Julianne and me out walking.  See the church in the background?  That is the church atop the hill she lives on.  Her house is about four short "turns" from the church plaza.  

A closer view of the church.  I love the tile work on the top!

All around the hill where we stay they have the "stations of the cross" done in tile work.  I like to pause and look at them and remember that 2000 years ago, Jesus was thinking of me when He endured such suffering.  He was thinking of you, too.

My beloved.  We walked from our town of Altea, south three miles along the beach to the town of Albir, where I photographed him as these fierce clouds rolled in.  In the far distance is that Penon de Ifach again--way beyond Altea in the town of Calpe.

As Steve and I arrived in Albir on our walk, we ran into Daniel and Adrienne on their walk!  Small world in Spain!  Behind them, that green bluff in the distance is where we hiked out to the point to the lighthouse.

Here again is my amazing uncle, Oliver, at the lighthouse in Albir, which he and Steve hiked to while I was off buying pottery in Gata!  (Second lighthouse hike for Steve.)  I hope I can hike like my uncle can when I'm in my 80s.  I won't tell you how late into his 80s he might be--I don't want to get into trouble!

Steve at a stop on the lighthouse hike!  Way back there on the shore in the distance is the town of Albir.

Daniel and me exploring the castle in Denia, with the town and beach in the background!

Daniel in front of the Valencia Cathedral which is "supposedly" the home of the holy grail--the cup that Jesus drank from during the Last Supper.  Lots of churches claim to have things like this, however, so I don't get too excited about the artifacts themselves.  But the churches are magnificent works of art and grandeur.

Aahhh...churros y chocolati at Valor Chocolate Shop!

Last but not least, when I'm climbing the 220 BIG, WIDE, cobblestone stairs to my aunt and uncle's house, after being in town at the market or beach, I love saying hello to all the many cats in Altea.  One of the few Spanish phrases I have truly perfected is "Hola, gato!"  



Friday, September 15, 2017

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

Love,
Gabrielle

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.