Thursday, February 1, 2018

Here we go again

Dear Family and Friends,

I normally only do one blog post per month, but I did want to tell you what was decided after we met with my oncologist on Monday.

It turns out that my tumor marker jumped up 20 points this week to an annoying 67 (should be under 30), confirming our suspicions that the cancer is growing again.  This means that the chemo drug that had been working for me, Taxol, is no longer being effective.  However, I needed to stop Taxol anyway, since it was causing so much nerve pain in my hands and feet.

Thus, I am now on a drug called Topotecan, a chemo drug that shouldn’t hurt my hands and feet as much.  Along with this drug, I will continue to take Avastin, which prevents formation of the small blood vessels that feed the cancer cells.  So we will continue our efforts to attack, kill, and starve the cancer cells.  If that doesn’t sound like full on war, I don’t know what does!

I made it through my first treatment on Tuesday with one migraine and two days of nausea, but today, Thursday, I’m doing a bit better.  I will actually attempt to exercise today and make myself eat healthy foods, even though nothing really sounds too appealing. 

I was sad to read statistics this week about ovarian cancer patients who have failed many drugs and then are given Topotecan.  On average, they live only 51 weeks.  But nine out of ten late-stage ovarian cancer patients are dead at five years, and here I am—not dead!  By God’s grace, I am the one out of ten.  As I have said before, we are not statistics to God, but individuals He created with a lifespan that is entirely in His control.  And we need not worry that we will die one day too soon, or one day too late.  When the gates of Heaven open for me one day, and the Lord takes my hand and takes me there, it will be at exactly the right time.  In the meantime, I treasure the gift of each day and work hard at ordering my days in ways that are meaningful and healthy, balancing times with friends and family and exercise, with times of quiet and rest, with prayer, Bible study, a cup of tea, and a good novel!  “All the days ordained for me were written in your Book before one of them came to be.”  Psalm 139:16

I want to thank you for all your prayers and kindnesses this past week.  I received lovely cards in the mail from Sue, Audrey, Maribeth, and Janet, and a large care package of my favorite chocolate treats from our cousins Rob and Becky in Oregon.  On my actual chemo day Tuesday, I was quite nervous about my first time taking the new chemo drug, as you never know how it will react in your body.  I texted my Bible study friends and they immediately started praying and one of them showed up to visit me at my chemo chair moments later!  And Monday night, with Steve at work while I was sad, emotional, and having a lot to process with the cancer growing and the new drug about to start, Renee came over and she and Daniel had dinner with me, let me cry, and watched Grace and Frankie on TV with me to cheer me up. 

It takes a village to help a person who is battling cancer.  I have the best village in the world.  Thanks be to God, and to all of you!!  I love the poem below, and quote it to myself often.  I hope it will speak to you as well.

Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)

Love,


Gabrielle

As you know, we love our bunnies, Sunny and Haystack.  So I took this photo with Peter Rabbit for them!  ;-)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Yes, it's true--I have FOMO.

Dear Friends and Family,

Here is the latest in the epic battle of Gabrielle versus ovarian cancer.  We received the results of my recent PET scan and there were many things to be thankful for, such as no cancer evident in my kidneys, pancreas, stomach, etc.  However, there were some new, very small spots of cancer in my liver.  They were small enough at this stage that the oncologist wasn’t terribly concerned.  But that explains why my tumor marker has not come down into the normal range yet—there is still some cancer growing in my body. 

What will we be doing about this you might ask?  Well, because the nerve pain (neuropathy) in my hands and feet has gotten so bad from being on the chemo drug Taxol, we are meeting with the oncologist on Monday to review all the options and decide on a new treatment plan.  It is nerve wracking to think of starting new drugs that may or may not work, or that may cause new and difficult side effects.  But it is nerve killing for me to stay on Taxol, and the oncologist said, “I want you to be at your son’s med school graduation, but not in a wheelchair!”  Hear! Hear!  I could not agree more!  So, as I wait for Monday’s appointment, I remind myself daily to keep my eyes on Jesus, my motto for facing cancer and all of life, and I continually trust myself and my family to His care.  And I remind myself that whether total healing comes in this life or the next, I will be healed! 

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Rev. 21:4

Meanwhile, I have been thinking a lot about FOMO.  Have you seen the new billboards for Lyft, the competitor of Uber that provides you with rides around town?  It says “NO MO FOMO.”  FOMO is an acronym for Fear of Missing Out.  Apparently you don’t have to miss out on any of the fun things to do around Seattle, or any city, if you call Lyft for a ride!

I love FOMO people.  I am a FOMO person.  You know, those people who don’t want to miss any party, adventure, trip, great new restaurant, or movie.  The people who will still attend the theater, opera, or symphony despite the fact that they have a fever and can’t stop coughing.  A FOMO person will fly across the country to attend your birthday party or a concert (yes, I flew with my friend Georgi to Tucson to hear Barry Manilow’s final performance, and my sweet friend, Soozi, flew from Utah for my birthday party).  FOMO people do NOT want to miss out!

I realized that being a FOMO person helps me in my fight against cancer.  I fight so hard because I don’t want to miss any special milestone in the lives of my family or friends.  Here is a short list of things I don’t want to miss out on in the next couple of years:  Daniel’s graduation from medical school in May; celebrating said graduation with a family trip to the tropics; attending Dani and Jeff’s wedding in August at a winery in Oregon, where Renée will be the officiant; taking Jericho to Disneyland as promised when he is a “four-year-old-boy;” my annual trip to a romantic Inn on the Oregon coast with Steve; walks, talks, meals, movies, and game nights with dear friends; attending Daniel’s wedding (no, he’s not engaged yet, but has been dating someone very special for two years); and lastly—for now—holding Renée and Riley’s first baby (and no—they aren’t pregnant yet)!

I am thankful God made me a FOMO person.  FOMO gets me up in the morning.  It gives me wonderful things to look forward to.  I know that if I can just stand the pain, nausea, constipation, or fatigue for one more day, then I will be one day closer to the next special memory I want to make with the friends and family I love so very much.  So here’s to all the precious reasons to keep on fighting!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jer. 29:11

Love,

Gabrielle

No missing movies with my friends!

No missing burgers with Steve!

No missing giggles with Jericho!

No missing wearing matching slippers with Renée!

No missing having Jon and Karissa over to cook us the world's best Thai food!

And no missing Karissa's chocolate cake, with strawberry/guava filling and handmade marzipan flowers!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

What I Know for Sure

Dear Family and Friends,

Some of you know I am a night owl, and that on most nights, I stay up later than every other member of my family.   Two nights ago I watched the entire recording of the 2018 Golden Globe Awards beginning after Steve went to bed. 

Sitting front row center at the ceremony was one of the wealthiest, most famous women in the world—Oprah Winfrey.  She was honored at this year’s Globes with the Cecil B. DeMille award for her outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.  In her tremendously moving acceptance speech, she used a phrase for which she is well known, and which is the title of a column she writes in Oprah Magazine.  The phrase is: What I Know for Sure.   Now I know I am not as rich or famous as Oprah, nor have I accomplished anywhere near as much as she has in my lifetime.  But you know what?  I too have some things I know for sure.  Here are just a few of them that I have been pondering this very week.

·   Today, January 9th, 2018, is both a day I will never forget, and a day I can’t believe has come.  For you see it was on January 9th, exactly five years ago, that my stomach hurt so badly that Steve drove me to the ER.  Daniel came too, and waited with us as they ran a battery of tests.  About one a.m., I sent Steve home, since he needed to rest before his busy clinic day the next morning.  Not too long after he left, a doctor entered the room and told Daniel and me that they had found some masses on my ovaries and that I was being admitted to the hospital.  A chill went through my body like I’ve never experienced before or since.  I turned to my sweet son and said, “Call Dad and tell him to come back.  I think I have ovarian cancer.”  No, I will never forget January 9th, 2013.  But neither can I believe, after being told that there was a 75-90% chance I would be dead within five years, that God has allowed me the incredible gift of being alive to see January 9th, 2018!  What I know for sure is this—life can change in an instant—but I am not, and never will be, a statistic to God.  Neither are you.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Luke 12:7

You might wonder how I’ve been spending my time today on this milestone anniversary.  First, I slept in, for I was not allowed to eat or drink anything other than water until 3:30 p.m.  If I can’t have breakfast or lunch, it’s best to curb my hunger by sleeping in!  Then at 12:15 I checked in at the University of Washington Hospital for my PET/CT scans.  My arm was injected through an I/V with radioactive dye, and I had to remain perfectly still for an hour while my organs and tissues absorbed the dye.  Then I was wheeled into a cold room, placed on a narrow table, given two warm blankets, and slid into the scanning machine.  I was in there, with my arms stretched over my head, holding perfectly still for another hour, while the machine and its linked computer created rainbow colored photos of the inside of my body.  The parts that light up the most are cancer.  I prayed throughout that scan (for many of you!) and that helped me endure the cramping pain in my neck and shoulders that always happens when my arms are pinned overhead for an hour.  And I reflected on all of the memories and emotions that are part of January 9th for my family.  After the scan was over, we headed home to wait for exactly one week for the results.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14  But tonight, while waiting, I will EAT!  I got to choose the meal, which we will share with Renée, Riley, Daniel, and Adrienne, and I chose French dip sandwiches, salad with Ina Garten’s homemade blue cheese dressing, and seven layer chocolate cake and ice cream.   I will be glowing all through the meal—and not just because I’m radioactive!  My heart will be glowing as we thank God together for the precious gift of my being alive at the five-year mark to enjoy this meal with my family.  What I know for sure is this—life is full of joy and sorrow, fear and faith, suffering and celebration.  And by God’s grace, I get to be alive today to experience all of those things in a single day.  

·   If you know me well, you will know I am not into fashion and makeup.  Not one single, solitary bit.  Sure, I had to dress professionally and look presentable throughout my 30-year career in fund raising.  But since cancer ended my career, I have been content to live my life, barring events like weddings, in shorts and flip-flops, sweatpants and t-shirts.  I don’t even wear blue jeans very often, for the scar tissue on my belly from my cancer surgery gets irritated by zippers and buttons.  Sacrifice comfort for fashion?  No thanks!  Bring on those stretchy pants with elastic waistbands.  Now because my personal style could be called “Extreme Northwest Casual,” losing my hair during cancer has not been terribly traumatic for me.  Until yesterday.  After my Bible study I went to Macy’s at Northgate to exchange a pair of pants Steve had given me for Christmas.  Ok, yes—they were sweatpants, and I had asked for them on my Christmas list.  While there, I gathered up about 12 pairs of pants, and made a beeline for the dressing room.  Just as I was about to enter, a sales clerk, who was seeing me from behind, hollered at nearly the top of her lungs “Stop!  You can’t go in there!”  I stopped dead in my tracks and wondered immediately if she thought I was planning to go in there to shoplift all those pants by stuffing them in the bag I was carrying that held the pants I was returning.  So wondering what was up, I turned and looked directly at her face, only to have her continue her admonition (in her loud voice, in the presence of several other customers), saying, “That dressing room is for women!”  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  It stunned me.  I said the first words that came to me, “I am a woman.  I’m in chemo and that’s why my hair is so short.”  Her expression of chagrin and extreme mortification was really something to see, and of course, she proceeded to apologize over and over again.  Under the gaze of the other customers, who had stopped shopping to watch this encounter, I hurried into the women’s dressing room to try on all the pants I was holding, and a couple of thoughts came to mind.  The first was, “Well of course, she thinks I’m a man.  I am wearing old, baggy, gray sweatpants, a black North Face jacket that hides my ‘womanly’ curves, my hair is akin to a crew cut, and I have not a speck of makeup on my face.”  A few moments later, I bought three pairs of pants.  And yes, two are ordinary, comfy sweatpants.  One, however, is a “slightly nicer” pair of navy blue stretchy pants that look almost, dare I say, stylish!  I may just wear them out to dinner next weekend and perhaps, if I add just a wee bit of lipstick to my ensemble, our waitperson will not call me sir.  But this brings me to the second thought I had after encountering that sales clerk—what I know for sure is that we err when we judge people by their outward appearance.  Who knows what wonderful person may lurk beneath those sweatpants and that bad haircut?  And who knows what kind of pain and brokenness may be hidden beneath that Ralph Lauren sweater?  Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7

·   Over the past five years of battling cancer, I have had several people tell me I’m their hero.  The dictionary says that a hero is “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.”  Yes, battling cancer does take courage, and there are many challenging times when I consider just making it through the day an outstanding achievement!  But here’s a little secret.  Any courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities you may see in me are not something I can take credit for.  For I am just the sum of my parts.  And here are my trifecta of parts—the sum of which help me get up each morning and find strength, hope, and at least a little bit of joy in each day—while living with an incurable cancer. 

Part 1—my faith in God.  One of my heroes, C.S. Lewis, said “
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  Throughout my cancer journey, I have put my trust in God, and He has never left me or forsaken me.  My list of answered prayers is over 40 years long.  He has given me peace that passes all human understanding during a time of life when suffering and fear are regular companions.  When I had to look over my oncologist’s shoulder at a scan showing spots in my lungs, I had an overwhelming certainty that I was not alone.  I felt and experienced Jesus right beside me, with a hand on my shoulder, looking at that scan with me.  When I’ve wondered and worried about how long I will live, He has reminded me that “all the days ordained for me are written Your book before one of them came to be,” Psalm 139:16, so I can relax, knowing that I will not die one moment sooner, or later, than what God has planned for me.  I could go on and on about the ways God has made His presence known to me over the years, but since this post is getting lengthy, I better move on to…

Part 2—my family.  I count my blessings every morning upon awakening, and thank God for the gift of another day of life, and for the gifts of Steve, Renée, Riley, Daniel, and Adrienne, as well as Jericho and all my extended family members who love and support me.  If you’ve read prior blog posts, you will see numerous examples of how well I’ve been loved and cared for by my family.  Their steadfast devotion to me, and daily sacrificial acts of kindness and service, are like nothing I could have ever imagined or dreamed.  They are the true heroes in my story, for they shore me up and help me walk on through my life's most difficult days. Thank you, dear family, for loving me like we are taught in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 “
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  And that brings me to…

Part 3—my friends.  Much has been written about friendship.  There are quotes, poems, movies, plays, books, and songs.  For me, there are memories—countless memories of friendship in action.  The day a friend showed up on my porch with dinner, literally five minutes after the thought ran through my head that maybe I needed to start asking for some help with meals, as I was too tired to cook and the smells nauseated me.  “I felt like God was telling me to bring you dinner,” she said.  The day a friend sat with my family throughout the 5-1/2 hour surgery to remove all the cancer the surgeon could see or feel.  The countless times a friend has had me to lunch, where she cooks me wonderful, healthy meals, then gives me a blanket and pillow on her couch in front of the fire to chat and/or close my eyes and rest.  The hundreds of cards from friends that have shown up in my mailbox to remind me I am loved and prayed for.  The friends who have sat with me through five hours of chemo in the most uncomfortable guest chair.  The friends who dedicated their ride in the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Obliteride, to me.  The time a friend, whose life is altogether too busy, organized the meal train that would provide us with three dinners a week…and all the friends who responded to her plea and cooked and delivered those meals.  The friends who leave little gifts on my porch, or send me flowers, teddy bears, and gourmet treats.  The friends in my Bible study who threw me the birthday party of my dreams this past year, with a Hawaiian theme.  The friends who go on walks with me, to help me stay strong, or invite us over for a relaxing game of cards and some yummy dessert to take our minds off cancer for a night.  And just the other night, my friend who drove a long way from her home on a dark, cold Sunday night to attend a healing prayer service she had heard about at a little church near me, simply to ask for healing prayer for me.  Thank you, dear friends, for your love, prayers, and continual acts of kindness.  I am overwhelmed by you.  Indeed, you and my family are the true heroes.  “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”  Proverbs 17:17

And now what I know for sure, is that I have to go put the flowers that Steve just gave me in a vase, and set the table for our celebration meal.  The kids will be here soon!

With love and gratitude,

Gabrielle


Cuties in plaid!


Jericho and Daniel having fun in the snow!


Apart from Steve, the rest of us spent Christmas in our jammies!

Do I really look like someone who should not be admitted to the Women's Dressing Room at Macy's?!

Father-daughter walk in the snow past King's, Renée's old high school.

Daniel and me out for a day of snowshoeing on non-chemo week!


Sundays with Jericho!

New Year's Eve with king crab legs from Costco and games!
About to have a pb&j picnic with my sweetie!

Steve wanted a profile pic to show off my goofy hat.  So warm, but a bit on the loud side!