Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Malt balls? Chocolate Malt? No, Malta!

Dear Friends and Family,

I remember the days before cancer when life seemed as if it would go on forever.  I needn’t rush to plan trips, game nights, or other experiences with family and friends for I knew there would be plenty of time for that later.  Now, however, I am continually conscious of a mental “tick, tick, tick,” reminding me that my time on this earth is finite—perhaps more finite than yours.  And thus, there is absolutely no time to waste. 

With that in mind, consider the last two weeks of my life.  Immediately following two walks, two lunches, and two dinners with friends, I flew to California with Renée, Riley, Daniel, and Jericho for a four-day trip, celebrating Jericho’s upcoming 4th birthday, to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park!  Steve graciously stayed home and worked for somebody has to pay the bills, and that somebody is no longer me.  A wonderful time was had by all, and never before have I witnessed four adults so utterly exhausted by chasing after one almost 4-year-old!

Picture me arriving home from the airport Monday evening, plopping into bed, then arising Tuesday morning for chemo day.  Wednesday, my calendar was blocked out as it always is the day after chemo, with a big slash and the word SICK.  Then at 8 AM Thursday, Steve and I jumped in our car and drove to Ashland, Oregon for a four-day trip with my sister, Marti, and brother-in-law, Merle.  Did you know that Ashland is right next door to CALIFORNIA?!  My backside does!!!  We shopped, ate, walked through Lithia Springs Park, saw two plays, then hopped back in our cars and drove to central Oregon, where the most beautiful home, graciously loaned to us, by our cousins, Rob and Becky, awaited us.  There, we hiked three days in a row along the banks of the stunningly beautiful Metolius River, shopped some more in nearby Sisters, Oregon, read books, and grilled kabobs on the deck overlooking a creek with a 180 degree view of glorious nature.  We topped off our days by playing canasta and sharing five different flavors of fudge.

I arrived home from that trip Monday night and Tuesday, Daniel and I went to the Chihuly Glass Museum (don’t miss it!), to happy hour at the Metropolitan Grill downtown, then picked up Renée at work to drive her home and see her new couch.  After chatting with Renée and Riley for a bit, we swung by Fred Meyer to pick up organic kale for the bunnies and the May issue of Seattle Met Magazine (in which Daniel is prominently featured for his role in helping the UW investigate a new male birth control drug; he will be in Time Magazine in June, in Glamour Magazine this summer, and in a one-hour TV special produced by the BBC in August!).  On our way home from Freddie’s, we made one final stop at Menchie’s for some pineapple dole whip sorbet.  Today I am in a private room with a bed (!) for chemo, which will be topped off by a shot in my stomach to grow blood cells and the drip, drip, drip, of two, big, red, life-giving units of blood.  Like a vampire, I vant to, I need to, I must have some blood!  And speaking of blood—congrats to my sweet Renée on reaching a milestone in April for donating 100 pints of platelets for people like me who need them! 

Are you just a teensy, weensy, tiny bit tired reading these last four paragraphs?  I sure am!!!  I know it is important for cancer patients and anyone battling illness to rest.  And believe me, every time I see a couch, reclining chair, or even a fluffy-looking carpet, I lie down for some blessed minutes of relaxation in the midst of so much excitement.  But as Steve and I have always said to one another, we would rather burn out than rust out.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  J

I just finished studying the Biblical book of Acts in my Monday Bible study group.  In the 27th chapter, the apostle Paul boards a ship with his jailers and sails for Rome, where he is to go on trial in front of Caesar on a variety of trumped up charges.  During the journey a terrible storm arises.  The boat faces winds of hurricane force, and as the ship tosses and turns and threatens to break apart or go aground on a sandbar at sea, the men fear, rightly so, for their lives.  Verse 20 highlights their despair, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” 

But then an amazing thing happened.  After yet another terrifying evening aboard, they awoke to daylight and the sight of a bay with a sandy beach.  They swam and floated on planks from the broken ship to get to shore and everyone reached land safely.  And in chapter 28, we read of the beautiful island nation God had brought them to--Malta.  The islanders showed them unusual kindness, building a fire to warm them, feeding and entertaining them, honoring them in many ways, and when they were ready to leave, the travelers were provided with a ship and the supplies they needed to continue their journey.

There are so many days in my cancer journey when I believe the hurricane force winds of chemo, climbing tumor markers, and frightening scans will surely sink me.  The storms rage in and around me, in my body, and in my mind, heart, and soul.  I am filled with fear, and very nearly give up hope.  But then Malta comes along.  For me, Malta is the smile on Jericho’s face as he spins circles in a giant red teacup and gets hugged by the “real” Mickey Mouse.  Malta is a play in Ashland that makes me laugh so hard that I forget how sick my stomach feels.  Malta is hiking in the sunshine along a sparkling, crystal clear river, with so many colors of blue in the various depths of the water that my soul is just completely filled up.  And Malta is seeing magnificent glass creations, eating the best-ever happy hour burger, and lying exhausted on Renée and Riley’s brand new couch while three of the people I love the most in the world are on the opposite couch, chatting with me about anything and everything.

For the next two days I will be sick, with a capital S.  No hyperbole here.  But I will tell myself to hang in there, for while I’m sick, the God who loves me will be planning my next Malta.  And one day, arriving in Heaven will be the Malta to end all Maltas.  We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  Hebrews 6:19

Love,

Gabrielle

P.S.  My tumor marker dropped another 57 points last week!  Praise God, and thank you for praying!

Jericho loved this John Wayne statue at the Orange County Airport!



Standing by the Metolius River.
Jericho playing on the slides at the home we rented.

The Disneyland Crew!

A Bug's World at Disneyland.

Happy riders!

Daniel and Riley had to ride the teacups with Jericho for Renée and I get too sick with all the spinning!

Pretend vehicles are so much fun!

A restful moment by a fountain.

Starstruck meeting Mickey!!

Strolling the clean and happy streets of Disneyland.

Learning to spin the wheel to go in circles during the ride.

Daniel and I are dripping wet after going on a whitewater rafting ride.  Then we posed with this characters, having no clue who they are!

The little, first-time flyer waiting for the plane to load.

Having gotten soaked in a water park feature, Jericho enjoys his pizza with no shirt on!

This is the water feature he got soaked in!


Marti and me in Ashland.

Sitting on the deck at our cousin's home in Camp Sherman, Oregon.

By the banks of the Metolius river.


By the river again.



Sunny, enjoying outside play time.

Mickey Mouse pancakes by Daniel.  The perfect Disneyland breakfast!


The one, the "only," Mickey Mouse!

Steve by the old fashioned gas pumps at the Camp Sherman store.

Steve, Gaby, Marti, and Merle by the gorgeous Metolius River!

Look at the different colors of the river water.

Raging river.

Favorite hiking buddy.

Standing in the 45 degree river water!  Brrrr!

Steve driving WWII jeep known as Free Willy!

Fudge plate, anyone?


Love the Mickey Mouse in flowers that greets you at the front of Disneyland!

Chihuly Glass Museum.  Kind of looks like Daniel is wearing a wild wig!

Strolling through the glass garden.













Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Scan Results and New Drug Update

Dear Family and Friends,

Many of you have been asking about the results of my recent CT scan, in light of my rapidly rising tumor marker.   Since Steve was working, Renée accompanied me to the oncologist to review the scan last week.  The bad news is that my cancer has grown.  There are more spots in my liver and the size of various lymph nodes around my abdomen, heart, lungs, and thyroid, have grown as well.  But the good news is that all of the spots are 1.9 centimeters or less.  And according to the oncologist, it is not yet time to be gravely concerned (perhaps “grave”ly is not the best choice of words when we are trying NOT to be concerned)!  J

Some really good news is that after just two chemotherapy treatments with my new drug, Gemsar, my tumor marker dropped 80 points!  Remember I had asked you to pray that I would be in the 20% of people for whom this drug works?  It appears that I may be in that group—although I hesitate to confirm that until I’ve had a few more tumor marker tests.  My oncologist taught me that it is not good medicine to decide things based on one lab test.  For now, let’s just say that we are greatly encouraged by this auspicious start!

The difficult part about the new drug is that it makes me quite sick—sicker than any prior drug I have been on.  In addition to the usual nausea, fatigue, and constipation, the new drug has brought low-grade fevers, flu-like aches, and migraine headaches.  But now that I have made it through four treatments with gemsar, I have figured out the rhythm of the drug, and have learned that the challenging new level of sickness it brings only lasts for three days.  By day four, it begins to turn around.  Food sounds appealing again.  A walk seems doable again.  And once again, my days seem more filled with joy than struggle.  Thus, during the three bad days I have learned to tell myself multiple times per day, “You will not always feel as awful as you do at this moment—so hang in there.” 

As I was observing the rhythm of my gemsar treatments this past week, we received some horrific news—that a friend of Renée’s had committed suicide.  It cut us all to the core to learn that this sweet young woman—an only child, whose smile, energy, and spirit lit up a room—was so overwhelmed by her life’s burdens that she needed to make the pain stop, once and for all.  We mourn with her parents the loss of one so very dear, and cry out to God for understanding, peace, and comfort.  And in comparison to the pain and suffering this young woman endured, my having to survive three days a week of bad chemo side effects seems like a very small thing.

I told Steve on our drive home from chemo today with my nauseous tummy that all I wanted was to get home and be still.  No driving over potholes, no walking here or there—just sitting, very, very still.  And that made me think of the Bible verse that says “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10  Whether we are facing illness, or the grief to end all griefs of losing a child—as we sit in the stillness with our pain, may we hear the voice of God gently whispering to us, “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   

Love,
Gabrielle

Daniel took us out to dinner at FlintCreek Cattle Co. in Greenwood to thank us for helping him get through medical school.  Their happy hour burger is divine (but you must get there right at 4 PM before they sell out), and so was this molten chocolate cake dessert!

I had a great time at my friend, Ami's, baby shower.  Eager to meet baby boy Juel!

Jericho loves his aunties Nay Nay and Riley!

This is an "outie" navel orange if ever there was one!


On the way home from chemo today, we stopped at the Amazon Treasure Truck to buy some filet mignon steaks to help my red blood cells.  I'll know in a few hours if I was able to stomach them on chemo day or (more likely) not!













Friday, March 23, 2018

Hills and Valleys

Dear Friends and Family,

Easter is just around the corner.  When I was a child, Easter wasn’t about Jesus dying on the cross for us and rising from the dead three days later.  For me, in my unchurched home, Easter was about candy!  Candy in Easter baskets and candy in plastic colored eggs, well hidden for three little hunters.  And my very favorite candies, by far, were those little speckled “birds' eggs,” which were malt balls covered in a crunchy, sweet candy coating.  I loved plain malt balls too, and in fact, they were my number one movie snack.  But at Easter time, something about adding the extra sweet candy coating on top of those malt balls made me swoon.

I’m sad to say the news I am about to share with you cannot be sugarcoated.  Things are looking a bit grim at the moment.  In the last six weeks my tumor marker has jumped from around 40 to 379.  As a reminder, a normal, healthy CA-125 marker is 0 to 35.  This jump is cause for much alarm, as even when I was first diagnosed with cancer in January of 2013, my tumor marker was only around 169.  I have reached a new high, which, as you can understand, has brought the Dudley family to a new low. 

When I saw my oncologist on Monday and we discussed that high tumor marker, she couldn’t believe I wasn’t doubled over in pain.  My stomach has felt a bit off, for sure, but no major pain to report yet.  The most recent drug we had tried, Topotecan, was a complete failure, as noted by the gargantuan jump in the tumor marker.  So yesterday I began yet another new drug combination to try to attack this growing cancer.  The new chemo drug is Gemsar, and I will continue to receive Avastin with it (Avastin is the drug that prevents the formation of the tiny blood vessels that feed cancer cells).  I wasn’t tremendously encouraged to hear that only 20% of ovarian cancer patients respond to Gemsar.  But as we know, someone has to be in that 20% and we will pray it will be me!  I will have a CT scan next Wednesday, right before chemo, so that will give us a better picture of what is going on with that ridiculous tumor marker number!

Looking out a little further, my oncologist is applying for a “compassionate use” approval of a non-FDA approved immunotherapy drug for me.  It is currently showing success in other types cancers and it may be something we will need to try if it is approved.  More on that later, if and when we get to that point!  But this is something else you can pray for for us.

I am delighted that Steve’s employer, UW Physicians, has approved his family medical leave act application so he can spend more time with me!  He is still working, but a greatly reduced (60%) schedule.  It cheers me immensely on the days he has off to attend doctor and chemo appointments and tests with me.  And to have the joy of his company on the regular days, too.  When I’m feeling badly, we play Scrabble and watch our favorite shows on TV.  We drink tea while reading our books across from one another in our comfy living room chairs.  And we go on walks, which vary in length from ½ hour on a bad day, to 1-1/2 hours on a good day!  This week we popped up to Vancouver for two days for fish and chips at Granville Island and a long walk at Stanley Park where we saw a Hallmark Movie being filmed!

I want to leave you with three thoughts I’ve been pondering a lot these past few weeks.  The first is a song I heard on Christian radio called Hills and Valleys by Tauren Wells.  The chorus goes like this:

“On the mountain I will bow my life to the one who set me there.
In the valley I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there.
On the mountain I know that I didn’t get there on my own.
When I’m walking through the valley, no I am not alone.
You are God of the hills and valleys, God of the hills and valleys,
God of the hills and valleys, and I am not alone.”

On my mountain top days, of which I have been blessed with so many, I want to always bow my life to the One who set me there.  And in the valley, where I am right now, I lift my eyes to the One who sees me there.  He sees me…He sees my family…and we do not walk alone!  “Eyes on Jesus” has been our family motto from the beginning, and we lift our eyes to Him yet again in this new valley.  You can listen to the beautiful song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4rRCjrAyCs

Another thought I’ve been pondering came from my dear friend, Jen, who is in my weekly Bible study.  These wonderful women friends were praying for me one Monday, and Jen prayed “that God would hold my family and me so tightly through this trial, that it was as if we were swaddled like babies and wouldn’t have to flail around.”  Picture that.  A baby in great distress.  Crying out, arms and legs flailing all around.  In comes the parent, who takes the receiving blanket and swaddles that baby up like a burrito--so tightly that those little arms and legs can no longer flail.  The baby’s body can relax inside the tight embrace of the swaddle, and the safety of its parent’s strong arms and great love.  Slowly the tears cease, and the child is again at peace.  I love to picture God holding us so tightly that we are swaddled, in His arms, and can rest secure in His love and care.

Lastly, I have been thinking a lot about the grief people go through when they lose a loved one or even as they ponder a potential loss in advance—which my therapist calls pre-grief!  I am reading the sweetest novel right now called Arthur Trulov by one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Berg.  It is a story of an elderly man who loses his wife, and every day, he rides a bus with his lawn chair and sack lunch to the cemetery where he has lunch at his wife’s gravestone and talks to her.  Slowly but surely some ever so lovely people come into his life to help him along in the grieving process and help him experience love and laughter once again, when he thought he never would.

I don’t want to give away more, because you must read the book!  But I want to share a passage that has spoken to me.  Arthur is talking to a neighbor who is also grieving and he tells her that:

“When Nola first died, he thought he’d die himself, of the sorrow.  He says he’d read that grief has a catabolic effect and he thought for sure it would take him right out, this immense and gnawing pain, that it would eat him alive from the inside out.  But it didn’t.  It took a long time for him to shift things around so that he could still love and honor Nola, but also love and honor life, but it happened.  And it will happen to her.”

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, I hope you will find encouragement from this little quote.  I pray often for my family, who are each in some level of pre-grieving what may be coming for me, that they will know that God will give them every resource they need to get through the immense and gnawing pain of the grief that they will feel, for awhile, as if it will eat them alive.  And that He will bring them to the place where they can love and honor me, but also love and honor the long, beautiful lives that lay ahead for them.  Yes, every resource will be provided for them—friends, family, neighbors, pastors, their church home, therapists, the joy of a child or grandchild’s love and laughter, the daffodils and tulips blooming, soft, dear bunnies to pet, and best of all, God’s own faithful, loving, continual presence, holding them as tightly as a swaddled baby.

Easter blessings to you all.  He is risen—He is risen indeed!  And therein lies our hope.

Love,

Gabrielle

 
My beautiful girls--Renée and Riley--all dressed up and volunteering at the Fred Hutch Gala!

A little blurry, but this is at Stanley Park and I liked the seagull standing on the statue of the girl in the wetsuit, a modernized version of the little mermaid.

Jericho staying warm until it's time to jump in the pool for swimming lessons!

Adrienne and Daniel celebrate his residency match day with a football-sized calzone!

My love, on our 1.5 hour walk at Ebey's Landing on Whidbey last week!

Celebrating with Daniel on Residency Match Day at UW!  He will be doing his residency in family practice at Valley Medical Center in Renton, where Steve did his residency!  It's a fantastic program!  So proud.

Daniel made this cake for match day--a Spanish almond/orange cake, traditionally decorated with the cross of St. James!

Steve is known at work now for being the doc with the cool socks!  I love these anchor socks, for they remind me that when we are anchored in faith to God, the storms won't blow us away!

Halibut and Chips at Go Fish at Granville Island in Vancouver, BC!

Steve and I made a trip through Lynden, WA on our way home from Vancouver, remembering our lives there when the kids were just one month and 21 months old!