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!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Merry Christmas to all!

Dear Friends and Family,

‘Twas three days before Christmas and all through my home, just two bunnies are stirring as I’m writing this tome.  The stockings were hung on our mantel by me, though Jericho’s is so full, it is under our tree.  Daniel and Steve are snug in their beds, while I’m wide awake from my chemo meds. 

Though I am not wearing a kerchief or cap, the neuropathy in my fingers burns with each key I tap.  My oncologist’s words in my mind are a clatter, it is time that I tell you just what is the matter.

It seems when we stop my drugs for a flash, the cancer roars back as if in a mad dash.  So chemo continues indefinitely, as we pray for the research to bring new discoveries. 

But though I am sad and sometimes feel fear, Christmas reminds me that Jesus is near.  The babe in that manger was not St. Nick, He was God’s precious gift to the well and the sick. 

To show us God’s love is the reason He came, and to invite us to know Him, He calls us by name. 

You who are hungry, or homeless, or lost, come out of the darkness, the cold and the frost.  He knows all your suffering, sadness, and loss, and was thinking of you when He died on the cross. 

In Him I find peace, and despite sorrow, have joy.  For all of my hope comes from that baby boy. 

So on Him I fix my eyes and by His hands I am led, and each day He reminds me I have nothing to dread.

For though laid in the tomb in His burial clothes, after only three days, by God’s power He arose.

And I, too, one day, when life’s journey is through, will wake to a new life when God’s face I’ll view. 

May you too find hope in this Christmas so bright, cherish each moment, and now I must say goodnight!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6

Love,

Gabrielle

In early December, I had the happiest week ever on Maui at the Grand Wailea Hotel for Steve's medical conference.  I look awful in this selfie, but wanted you to see the pretty hotel lobby!

This is Maui Santa reminding us to hang loose this Christmas!

Whether in chilly Seattle or along the shores of Maui, I LOVE my walks with Steve!

My sister, Marti, and her husband, Merle, joined us in Maui, and a great time was had by all.  I can't see well enough to know if Marti's eyes are open or closed in this photo!  Oops!

My dear friend, Joan, on the staff of the Grand Wailea, arranged for us to enjoy a poolside CABANA for all seven days of our trip, since the chemo makes me extra sensitive to too much sun.  How relaxed do I look on this cushy chair with my book by the pool?!  Joan--we love you!

Visions of sugarplums Lappert's hot fudge sundaes are dancing through my head as I post this!

When I got home, Daniel, Renee, and Riley helped me throw a gingerbread decorating party that was truly awesome.  I loved hearing later that the grand prize-winning house was devoured by the winner's dog, and his mischief was apparent as she arrived home and found a peppermint ball stuck to his ear!  Thanks to my dear neighbor, Gina, for loaning me this awesome "tree skirt" Christmas sweater!

As Jericho's godparents, Steve and I love taking him to Sunday School, where last Sunday he was a sheep in the children's nativity play!  He asked me once "What is church?"  I told him that's where we go to learn about God and see our friends.  I asked him on the way home from church, "How is your goldfish, Robby, doing?"  He replied, "He's just swimming around."  Good answer!

For our 35th Anniversary on December 18th, Steve made me this bracelet. The "gift" for the 35th anniversary is coral.  He made me this bracelet out of seven pieces of red coral, and five pieces of blue sea glass, for 7 x 5 = 35 years together.  I am blessed with the most wonderful husband and children, and their love, support, and prayers give me strength daily.  

Sunny donned his special hat to wish you a Merry Christmas too!

























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!"