Thursday, January 31, 2013

Day Zero

Hello friends and family,

Gabrielle here.  Today Daniel and I went to the wig shop!  We tried on lots of different ones and ended up with something pretty similar to my own hairstyle that will be ordered on Tuesday and arrive next Friday.  You won't see me in it too often.  I plan to mostly just wear scarves or hats, but figured the wig would come in handy if I go to the Symphony or something.  Renee bought me tickets to see Vivaldi's Four Seasons at Benaroya Hall in a couple of months.  That will be a wig-worthy event!

The good news/bad news of the day is that the one-day culture of the needle aspiration of the abdominal port showed no infection.  But the bad news is--Steve and I know it IS infected.  I am having fevers (two days straight) and it is painful and there is a huge red circle spreading from it.  He marked the circle with black ink and the date/time so we can watch it grow or shrink as I take these antibiotics. 

Today is considered day zero--the day before chemo.  I went ahead and took my day zero steroid dose to prepare for tomorrow, but am truly wondering if with an infection and fevers they will be able to give me chemo tomorrow.  Daniel and I will show up there at 10.  They will draw blood and send it to the lab. The doctor will look at my red skin and black ink artwork on my abdominal port and my record of fevers today and then will decide yes or no to chemo.  Please pray for this infection to go away soon!  For the doctor to figure it out and for the antibiotics to work.  Pray they won't have to surgically remove this port, let the infection heal, and put in another one on the other side.  These are my little worries of the day today, but am casting these cares on God who cares for us.  (1 Peter 5:7...I think!)

Lastly, for the blessings of today (besides the new wig).  Today we were showered with kindnesses YET AGAIN.  My friend Lynette showed up for a visit with beautiful peach roses and a frozen lasagne for our freezer.  Our friends Howard and Nancy made us delicious pasta for dinner tonight which Howard delivered around 5:30 PM today.  Did I mention yesterday that Mike and Colleen brought us a quart of homemade yogurt and will continue that each week?!  And today I received six of the sweetest, most encouraging cards from friends at church, SPU, King's, and Steve's work.  Oh--and last but NOT least, my college friend Janet and her husband Tracy from California mailed me a care package!!  It contained homemade ginger cookies (ginger is good for nausea), kiwis, lemons, and meyer lemons that they and their neighbor grow, kale chips, a blue head wrap/scarf, and a sweet card (which would make card #7 today). 

I wish each of us could always feel as loved as I feel right now--by God and our family and friends.  Thank you all SO much for the love, kindnesses, and prayers to God who is the Great Physician.

Love,
Gabrielle

P.S.  Today I tried a WHOLE dropperful of the "daytime" marijuana essence for nausea.  Still nothing.  Tomorrow I'll try the nighttime one which is more potent, though it may make me sleepy.  Better sleepy than nauseous!

P.P.S.  They said you can lose your sweet tooth during chemo--and they are right!  Those of you who know me know I live for good chocolate and desserts.  Not anymore.  This is truly the Twilight Zone of my life!  My house is filled with Fran's and Theo and See's Chocolates, along with homebaked goods from friends--and I just can't do it!  AAAAAHHHHHHH!  Torture!  :-)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wednesday evening

Steve

Wednesday evening update.  On the plus side, Gabrielle is finding that, just as predicted, her nausea has been improving little by little and has not needed to resort to any sorts of formerly illegal substances to achieve that goal.  Chef Daniel made amazing spaghetti and meatballs with green beans and French bread last night that Gabrielle pretty much inhaled.  And right now, he is out in the kitchen whipping up some squash ginger soup (with nary a cookbook in sight…the kid is amazing!)  As an aside, where the old man failed, Renee came through for Gabrielle and came up with tincture of THC from good ol’ Fweedom on Aurora.

 [Oh, I have to brag about Renee too…two days ago, she handed me a present that took quite a bit of searching…my very own kintsugi bowl!!!  I love it!  She said they are actually quite hard to find and ended up getting this one out of Japan.  I have it on the mantel and keep some of my favorite pieces of beach glass in it.  As is apparent, I am increasingly drawn to broken things.]

My kintsugi bowl!
Daniel is cooking us dinner tonight!

But back to Gabrielle…

On the down side, her abdominal port has continued to give her grief.  Yesterday, she was on a loading dose of IV antibiotics and has been taking Augmentin since then.  But with worsening pain, a quick call to Dr. M.’s office this morning resulted in moving up the planned abdominal ultrasound from tomorrow to this morning.  After seeing the ultrasound report, Dr. M., decided that she wanted a needle aspiration of some fluid around the port, so then it was back to the IR department (IR: interventional radiology) for the procedure.  The nice radiologist (Dr. Joseph) showed the future Dr. Daniel what he was doing and let him get a nice and close look of the whole process.  Now, part of Gabrielle’s abdominal fluid is sitting in a petri dish to see if anything worrisome will grow.  The preliminary report looks good, as the gram stain (initial microscopic look see) didn’t show any organisms.  This is good news as it means that she is on track to get her next chemo treatment in two days. 

Her abdominal pain has been getting worse, and Gabrielle has been back on the pain meds (which she had been off of for several days).  So, it’s one of those three steps forward, two steps back days.  That’s two days in a row of spending more time at the hospital. Tomorrow: lab test to see how the blood count is doing.  If that is fine, then round two of chemo for Friday.  Hopefully, tomorrow will be less eventful than the past couple of days.

Gabrielle's mother, Gloria, just stopped by for a quick visit to check on her baby.  In the midst of the conversation, Gabrielle talked to her about cancer with amazing words of wisdom, peace and clarity of mind:

"You know, at first, I thought that it's a bummer to get cancer.  But then I thought, 'lot's of people get cancer all the time', so why should I expect to escape it?  As a matter of fact, why not me?  I'm strong.  I have a strong faith.  We all have a strong faith.  I have a great family and a terrific support team.  Why not me, that's what I figure.  Better me than some other folks who don't have all that going for them".  And that's the kind of attitude that Gabrielle has going into this thing.  Watch out, cancer!  You've got a formidable foe to contend with.

Prayers for today, should you feel so inclined:  improved abdominal pain, good blood test tomorrow, and continued stamina for what promises to be a long, arduous process.  And, of course, prayers of thanks for our wonderful kids, family and all of you for your support.  No hyperbole here, we couldn’t do it without you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Going with the flow

Hello dear friends and family,

Gabrielle here.  Today was supposed to be wig shopping day!  I survived my teeth cleaning at noon yesterday, which isn't the easiest thing to get through when nauseous, and I thought my "reward" would be Daniel's and my 11 AM appointment at the wig shop today.  We were going to have lots of laughs trying on all different colors and styles.  I'm pretty sure I won't go with blond.  I wore a blond wig on "spirit day" at SPU last year where we were supposed to dress up as someone.  I dressed as Sandy from Grease with blond wig and Renee's black leather pants.  Little did I know that none of my colleagues decided to join in for spirit day and that afternoon, I had forgotten I needed to attend a going away party for one of our VP's up in the President's Administrative Suite.  To say that experience was a little uncomfortable is a huge understatement, and it has soured me on life as a blond.

Anyway, I digress.  Rather than getting to go wig shopping today, last night I developed very bad pains in the area of the port that is in my right hip.  It is swollen, pink, tender to the touch, and I got a fever.  My doctor called in antibiotics and said she wanted to look at it this morning at 8:30.  I thought--no problem.  See the doc from 8:30 to 9, home for a rest, then hit the wig shop at 11.  Instead, I was in that doctor's office for over four hours getting bloodwork (infection), i/v antibiotics, i/v fluids (severely dehydrated and low blood pressure), and mercifully, i/v anti-nausea drugs!  Everyone in my doctor's office is super nice and comforting.  They gave us snacks, waters, a DVD player, People magazines, and we watched Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality.  But after that adventure, I was far too tired for trying on wigs.

Instead, we came home and had a lovely brief visit from my beloved aunt and uncle, Julianne and Oliver, and then, buoyed by all those fluids and antibiotics, and the rain having stopped briefly, Daniel and I walked around our block which is about four city blocks.  It felt so good to be outside!!

The other strange thing about today is that I tried my first "half dropperful" of the medical marijuana "essence."  It's not supposed to make you high--just help with nausea and appetite.  Truthfully, I felt/feel nothing.  Maybe will try the full dose of one dropperful next time.  Trying it, however, made me say to Daniel "what kind of alternate reality am I living in now?!"  One month I'm snowshowing in Leavenworth after Christmas (I'm a non-drinker and have never smoked pot) and the next I'm back and forth to the hospital and the doctor's office, in for tests (abdominal ultrasound tomorrow to see what's going on at that swollen/sore port site), and squirting pot juice under my tongue! 

Some of you know me as someone who is a planner and likes to be in control.  So it's pretty whacky having all your plans change daily and having very little control over anything (well, at least over my body and the flow of my days).  Many of you have sent me the Bible verse in Jer. 29:11 about God knowing the plans He has for us, plans to prosper and not to harm us, to give us a future and a  hope.  He knew that today I needed fluids and antibiotics more than I needed that wig and each day I'm learning more and more that He is in control and His plans are far better than mine.  Working on relaxing, trusting God, and going with the flow. 

And in case I don't make it to the wig shop on time, a woman from Steve's work (Marianne) knitted and sent home to me today two new beautiful hats!  And Aunt Julianne brought me a lovely scarf.  Thanks to you both and thanks to all the friends from SPU, Children's, church, and life who sent me cards today.  I think I got FIVE today.  And thanks to Lisl for the amazing dinner last night.  I have the best support team in the world.  I am blessed! 

Love,
Gabrielle

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Magic Man


Steve

Gabrielle is still fighting the nausea, big time.  Has no appetite…since last entry, she has had half an English muffin, and had to force it down at that.  This prompted all of us to put our heads together and come up with a plan.  I reminded everyone that at our last visit, Gabrielle got a prescription for medical marijuana.  Renee did some research, looking for the best resources, while Daniel scoped out the various preparations of the stuff to see which ones did the best job at cutting down on her nausea and stimulating her appetite at the same time but without the “high” of smoking the stuff, which she clearly did not want.  It seems that there are various elixirs that you can buy with the main component, THC.  Supposedly, this won’t make you loopy, goofy, or diminish your chances of retaining your Scrabble champion title.  However, there were no real specifics on things like prices, amounts, weekend specials, or the day old bin like at the bakeries.  This called for an in-person visit, conducted by yours truly. 

After donning a trench coat and dark glasses, I ventured out (after all, I am a respected member of the north end medical community and didn’t want to give the wrong impression to any patients that may be driving down Aurora on this rainy Sunday afternoon).  I drove on past the establishment in question, which was nestled between a couple of high end motels on Aurora: the Seal and Orion, if memory serves me correctly.  Was too nervous to go right in, so I took a detour to the nearby Home Depot and asked the friendly greeter if they had any yew bushes.  This is something Daniel and I have been discussing as a possible nice addition to our back yard, as Taxol, one of Gabrielle’s chemo drugs, is a derivative of the Western yew.  The greeter was clueless, so steered me in the direction of the nursery where I found to my great dismay that they don’t have them.  Skunked. 

On the way out, I thought I would do the greeter a favor by reporting back on what I had found, just to be ready for the next yew seeker.  “No yew today.” I said.  He looked at me like I was from Mars or if I had just told him Who’s on first and What’s on second.  It didn’t help that I hadn’t combed my hair yet and had a three day growth of beard.  But, honestly, you’d think the guy would have remembered me as I had just asked him not five minutes earlier “where’s the yew?”

So, I’ve got my nerves up and drive into the parking lot of the “collective”.  100% honest to goodness truth, all that follows is true.  That last little bit about the trench coat may have been an embellishment, but not the yew guy.  The name of the place was “Fweedom”.  I half expected to be greeted by Elmer Fudd complaining about “dat pesky wabbit!”  Instead, there’s a stark waiting room with some “gardening” magazines on the table, an ATM machine in the corner and a friendly woman (who didn’t look at all like Elmer Fudd) who greeted me behind what must have been two inch thick bullet proof plate glass with three really tiny holes drilled in it so she could hear what I was saying.

I asked about their product line.  Heck, I didn’t know where to start.  She said to go to their website, “killdawabbit.com”, or something like that.  I asked if she could just give me a brief overview.  Not a chance as I wasn’t the holder of the very necessary, much coveted, often sought, but rarely granted by this doctor, medical marijuana card.  OK, off to the next place to try again.

Tooling up Aurora, I pulled in to the parking lot of another “collective” where this time I was greeted by someone bearing a striking resemblance to Shaft from the old 70’s TV series.  Once again, he was safely positioned behind plate glass.  Behind him, a bored looking crew was working with large bags of “product”.  He also told me that he couldn’t show me or tell me anything as I wasn’t the holder of the card.  I asked if there was anything he had that didn’t make you sleepy.  He said that sleepy was a good thing if you were in pain.  Here, to demonstrate, he held his massive hand up and laid his cheek against it to make the sleeping motion as if he were a toddler in pre-school having nap time.  He looked so peaceful “dozing” there behind that plate glass, wearing that braided gold necklace.

As I drove away, I turned on the radio and heard the final strains of Credence Clearwater’s “Lookin’ Out My Backdoor” about “tambourines and elephants all playin’ in the band, won’t you take a ride on the flyin’ spoon, doo doo doo, wond'rous apparition, provided by magician…”  Now that’s the experience I was after with Gabrielle, but no dice.  I thought to myself, that that was a good medical marijuana song, but that an even better one was the one about the magic man and “let’s get high a while”, though I hasten to add that Gabrielle gave me strict instructions that she didn’t want to get high.  Next thing you know, honest to medical collective truth here, the song came on!  It was a miracle.  There was Heart singing about “last night when I was not so strong you know, a pretty man came to me…never seen eyes so blue (OK, so mine are brown)” and then the famous line “let’s get high a while”.  This was not five minutes after I thought it. 

Once again, I had no interest in getting Gabrielle “high” but I did indeed want to be her Magic Man and come back with some goodies from one of the collectives on Aurora.  No such luck.  No luck for “yew” either.  Home Depot is out.  But, I figure that if I can “think” a song to be played, what with that Magic Man stuff, I ought to be able to think that cancer right out of Gabrielle’s body.  And right now, I’m thinking real hard about that.

As for being a Magic Man, I guess I will leave that to Heart.  And now, I am heading out with my pal, Dean, for a brisk swim at Edmonds while the kids hold down the fort.

Steve

Nadir

Steve

Nadir.  That’s the word that was bandied about a few times during our pre-chemo meeting.  It means low point, especially as it pertains to white blood cells and other lab values.  For example:  “The nadir for your white cells will be 10-14 days after the chemo treatment”.  That’s the period of time when the body is the weakest and is thus most susceptible to infections.  But nadir, in a broader sense, can apply to other things as well.

For years, I have told people that my office is located at the nadir of Holman Road.  If you’re familiar with this road, which connects the lovely areas of Greenwood with Crown Hill, you know that it dips down to roughly the QFC area before heading back up.  For some reason, not sure why, I have gotten quite a few puzzled looks when I describe by office’s geography in such terms.  Lately, I have switched my approach and tell them that my front door looks directly at the garbage cans of Luisa’s Mexican Restaurant.  The lights go on.  They all know where Luisa’s is, nadir or no nadir (great hand-rolled tortillas await you at check-in, by the way).

Another nadir can be moods or just plain feeling crummy.  They warned us about that too.  Nurse Janelle said that Gabrielle would feel the worst on days two and three after chemo and slowly improve for a couple of days before it all hits again.  Well, that’s what we’re in right now.  Nothing tastes good.  I offered Gabrielle anything under the sun for breakfast, to which she said “no” to everything, but finally (more as a gesture to make me feel better, no doubt) agreed on letting me make her some bland pancakes with applesauce.  She ate just over one.  Didn’t sleep well last night.  Stomach was churning and gurgling.  Is still getting significant drainage from part of her abdominal incision.  She is worried that all the medicine is leaking out, but I assured her that there is plenty that is sticking around to do the job, otherwise she wouldn’t feel so lousy.

She is wondering if she has the strength to do this for 18 weeks.  I counter with the fact that she is the strongest person I know and that she will do fine.  However there will be tough challenges along the way, like last night and today, but that she’ll get through them.  One day at a time.  Or as she likes to say, “Eyes on Jesus.”  That’s a good place to focus, don’t you think?

The kids have made one of those paper chains that are popular around Christmas time to go on the tree right up along with strings of popcorn and ornaments made out of cellophane-wrapped sugar cookies.  It’s got 126 links, one for each day.  They have written encouraging notes or Bible verses on each one.  Each day down, and another link comes off.  Right now, it is draped along the banister.  Eyes on the prize.  We’ll get through this.

I also remind Gabrielle that the term “nadir” implies that the opposite also exists:  zenith, or high point.  You can’t very well have a nadir without that now, can you?  To go back to my Holman Road analogy, zenith is an apt term, as at the Zenith of Holman Road, you will find such fine establishments as Dick’s Burgers (a Seattle institution that gives Inn ‘n Out Burgers a run for its money), Holy Grounds Coffee and Daniel’s favorite: Value Village.  That’s the Crown Hill Zenith.  The Greenwood Zenith has Bick’s where Rachel Ray once did an episode.  They have one mighty tasty (albeit pricey) hamburger.

So the nadir of Gabrielle’s emotions and how she is feeling will soon give way to a zenith.  Along the way, we look at little bright spots:  the birds at the feeder outside the window, cheerful flowers, plants and cards, a bright, airy house which sure beats nine days of Room 440 at Northwest (no offense, you guys at Hotel Northwest were awesome…you just weren’t home).

And that’s Sunday.  Thanks for your prayers and support.  Now, if I can just talk Gabrielle into a trip to Dick’s or Bick’s, we’ll be making some real progress.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Finished first chemo treatment!

Dear Friends & Family,

Hallelujah!  We made it through my first chemo appointment!  Only 17 to go!!!

It was a long day--six hours.  The blood work took longer than normal before we could start, so next week I will go in on Thursday for the blood work and then we will be all set to start the chemo at 10:30 on Friday. 

My three chemo nurses are wonderful.  Great bedside manner and very comforting throughout the process.  They explained everything really well and checked on me continually.  They even let me order lunch (which is a freebie with your chemo if you are there for four hours or more...there is such thing as a free lunch) and brought me lots of bottles of water.  Daniel was with me the whole time and Steve about half the time.  He also had to get some paperwork done at work.  We played Estimate (my favorite card game) and I was easily beaten this time as they give you Benadryl with your chemo.  Rather woozy!  We played Scrabble, which I won before the Benadryl kicked in.  We watched Top Chef "Last Chance Kitchen" online on Daniel's computer.  And Daniel said a beautiful prayer of thanks when we were done.  Tonight we will read our daily devotional together in "Jesus Calling" and in the One-Year Bible and pray again.  Prayer is becoming like breathing.  Frequent, steady, life-giving. 

When we got home, I went on a round the block walk with Steve, going "slightly" farther than our last walk.  I had to stop several times to shake back and forth (think Chubby Checkers "do the twist") to slosh the chemo in my belly around real well.  Unfortunately, when we got home, a bunch of fluid (hopefully more the saline than the medicine) had "leaked" out of part of my abdominal scar that is not fully healed in only two weeks' time.  Now I'm going to lay down and flop back and forth in a lying position to continue spreading the chemo and hopefully, not having too much more drip out while lying down!  Really enjoyed the walk though on such a pretty, cheerful day.

At chemo I met a new friend who has given me her name/number to call her anytime.  She was diagnosed 11 years ago with stage 4 ovarian cancer.  She has had lots of remission since then but is currently experiencing a recurrence and beginning chemo again. I was very encouraged, however, to meet a stage 4 patient who is ALIVE after 11 years!  This was a sweet note of encouragement from the Lord!

And speaking of encouragement...oh my goodness!  When I got home from the hospital, you won't BELIEVE what was on my porch (it's like every day is Christmas)!  Our cousin Robby and his wife, Becky, sent me an authentic autographed picture of Kelsey Grammar (Frasier) for me--his biggest fan!  Most of you know Frasier is my favorite comedy of all time and I have seen all episodes about ten times.  I will treasure this photo.  Thanks, R & B, for such a thoughtful gift!

But wait, there's more!  There was a gorgeous flower arrangement from two of my dear friends from my Children's days, Bruce and Jeannie.  Happy memory with Bruce--went to his house one night and told him the downtown Nordstrom store didn't have my favorite work shoes and never offered to order them, so I assumed they were out of production.  The next morning I got a call from Bruce saying "Gabrielle, I have your shoes--they are shipping in today!" I couldn't believe it that such a busy man would take time to do this kindness for me!  Favorite Jeannie memories--two lovely spa vacations together and eating my first grapefruit right off the tree at B & J's Palm Springs home.  I still wear the light blue "moon" nightshirt that Jeannie gave me on our spa trip, which was over my b-day weekend!  Thanks so much, B & J, for the flowers and lovely card about your thoughts and prayers for me.  Speaking of my birthday, which is coming up on 2/18, I wonder if I will have any appetite to go out to dinner or if we will just stay home.  We are about to cancel our Canlis reservation for Valentine's Day (sob) as I just can't eat enough to make it worth paying for that special night with a five-course pre fixe menu.  Oh well--NEXT Valentine's day we can go and I will even have my own hair all grown back!

But wait, there's MORE!  Two other dear Children's friends, Bill and Luanna, sent me the largest basket of Harry and David fruits you ever did see!  Apples, pears, kiwis, limes, avocados, and mangos!  Fruit tastes really good to me these days and I quickly had Daniel slice me some apple to go with my "fatten me up" snack of two saltines topped with peanut butter and chocolate chips.  Delicious apple!  Thank you, Bill and Luanna, for this perfect gift and your prayers and love.

And even MORE, there were two more cards in the mail from two friends at work, Kristi and Maribeth, that made me smile with such sweet sentiments.  And an awesome encouraging e-mail from my friend, Ted.  Thanks to all of you who heretofore have not been mentioned in the blog for your gifts, cards, etc.  I have been trying to get out thank you notes with Daniel's help but we can't keep up.  So I will try to thank people in the blog going forward and shoot a text or e-mail when I can.  OK?  Every kindness means the world to me.  I feel I am not alone in this battle.  You are all with me.  I have never felt so blessed in my life. 

Jesus summed up the greatest commandment by saying we should love God and love our neighbor as ourself.  His love is poured out to me right now through all the love you are showing to me, your friend ("neighbor").  To love and be loved--what could be more important in life?  What an amazing rope team I have.  One foot in front of the either, one day, one hour at a time and we will summit this mountain called ovarian cancer.  The view from the top and coming down the other side will be magnificent!

Love to you all,
Gabrielle




Gabrielle and her main T.V. squeeze

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Day Zero a Quick Review

Hi dear friends/family,

Gabrielle here.  I wanted to check in and say "hello" as I finish up my final day of "life before chemo."  It has been a good day.  Daniel and I awoke to reasonably nice weather so we ate Mike and Colleen's homemade yogurt and granola (yum!) and headed outside for our "not so power" walk around the block.  It was so good to get outside, as most of my waking hours over the last two weeks have been indoors.

Around 11 AM my good friend Erin-Joy came over and brought me--reader discretion advised here--"Naked" juices, filled with lots of healthy fruits and veggies.  She also had mail ordered away to one of my favorite stores on earth--Bruce's Candy Kitchen in Cannon Beach--for one pound of dark chocolate sea foam candies.  You should have seen my face light up when I saw the pink and white striped box.  We have spent many wonderful summers at the Cannon Beach Christian Conference Center with the Bjorge Family and daily trips to Bruce's were mandatory.  By the way--would some of you on my prayer team please pray for Erin's niece Kierstin tomorrow at 1 PM?  She is three years old and was burned in an accident and has to have another trip to Harborview tomorrow to have her wound debrided.  I am not the only one in the world who is facing hardship right now and in need of our prayers!!

At 1 PM Daniel and I took a drive to pick up some meds and went down to Richmond Beach to gaze at the perfectly clear, snow-capped Olympic mountains.  We had our prayer time together gazing at the handiwork of God.  We then felt a small burst of energy and went to Central Market to get some lunch.  I am having trouble with appetite and not much sounds good right now.  Have lost 10 pounds since Jan. 1 (New Year's resolution accomplished for the first time in history).  Daniel said "I'll make you anything in this store that sounds good."  So guess what?  I had a CRAB cake for lunch...followed by a Naked juice chaser and a piece of sea foam.  While eating this delectable meal, we watched one of my favorite movies, "About a Boy."  The theme of the movie is about how people need each other and that you need more than just one other person "on your team."  You need "back up!"  If you haven't seen this movie, watch it!

Around 4 PM my dear friend Loretta came over.  She is a cancer survivor--six years now!  She gave me lots of great chemo tips and encouragement that I WILL make it through the next 18 weeks.  She brought me  a little "angel of prayer."  The little tag with it said "for those who believe in the power of prayer."  I put it on my dresser and she said "every time you look at it, remember how many people are praying for you."  Perfect!

I almost forgot to mention that getting the mail is a highlight of any day.  Today, like most days, there were cards from friends that brought me great joy to read.  I love your cards and notes.  Thank you all SO much!  And then there was a SPECIAL DELIVERY at the door--a card and homemade fuzzy, warm, cozy blanket from my great friend Dean's AWESOME Aunt Evie in San Francisco!  I love it!  I have snuggled with it today and it is going in my chemo day bag for tomorrow!

And the last act of supreme kindness and love in this day was from our dear friends and neighbors, Jerry and Laura, who just brought us clam spaghetti, salad with strawberries and blueberries, bread, chocolate cake, appetizer, beverages, and a ton of gorgeous long-stemmed pink roses.  There can't be better neighbors anywhere in the world (or at least anywhere in Shoreline)!

I am bathed in and overwhelmed by LOVE.  God's love, manifest through all of you, is covering me daily and bringing strength and hope for this tough journey.  Thank you all for coming alongside us and shoring us up for the 18 weeks ahead.  Tomorrow, when I arrive for my five-hour first chemo session, I will close my eyes and say a prayer for all of you, who are praying for and loving me.  Blessings to you all.

Love,
Gabrielle

P.S.  Many thanks to my wonderful friend Maribeth for organizing the meals and the great conversation on the phone today!

Day Zero

Steve

Today is "Day Zero", the term given to the day before chemo begins.  For those with good math skills, and adequate caffeine on board, that means tomorrow is "Day One", and then off we go from there on our 18 week journey.  This evening Gabrielle takes some additional medicine to get ready for the big onslaught of high power drugs tomorrow.  One of them, dexamethasone, is guaranteed to keep her awake, so we'll most likely but watching all sorts of late night infomercials, Leno, and baby even start the Vicar of Dibley DVD's that Kay kindly loaned us.  Don't know anything about the vic, but should be good for a few laughs.

Yesterday, in addition to some visitors with amazing food (breakfast, lunch and dinner no less...a trifecta!), we received another gift which is equally a delight: beach glass from Chuck.  He is a good friend who spends some of his time up on Shaw Island where he turned us on to the fine art of beachcombing for shards of glass.  It actually gets quite addictive, strolling along with nothing to do but wander and search for old broken bottles that have been worked over by the gentle sanding action of the waves and rocks to form pieces of art.  Here is a picture of some of our treasures:


A couple of these pieces are ones Chuck brought over.  Take a look at the big one and the piece just in front of it.  Obviously, the big one is the bottom of an old wine bottle, but now it is a work of art, especially with those barnacles.  Just in front of that one, is a rare purple piece.  Chuck says they are especially valuable because the purple is due to lead which they don't use any more and that it must be at least 50 years old.  I'm sure glad we don't all turn purple when we hit 50.

Just last weekend, Renee and I went beachcombing where we found our first blue piece of glass (far left).  Renee also found the top of what most certainly is a Rainier beer bottle which fits her just like a ring.

I like the whole picture of an old busted piece of a bottle with sharp edges, good for nothing but the recycle bin, being gently worked on over time to create an object of beauty with gentle smooth edges and a fine, sanded surface that is fun to look at and hold in your hands.  Isn't that what happens to all of us with the sands of time?  Just as long as we don't turn purple, and I would prefer not to grow too many barnacles.  Here's to Day One tomorrow.  Maybe I'll slip a couple of pieces of beach glass into Gabrielle's pocket for good luck (most likely not the wine bottle). 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Post chemo prep meeting

Steve

We have just come back from a marathon session with Dr. M. and her staff as they outlined the course ahead.  Dr. M. spent a good hour with us and went over quite a few things in great detail. She reviewed the final pathology report of tissues samples which she took during surgery and it was pretty much what we expected: stage 3 of the most common type of ovarian cancer.  Next stop:  a visit with Whitney, a very kindly and gentle medical assistant who removed Gabrielle’s staples.  She didn’t fill in the area with that nifty gold epoxy that they use in kintsugi pots, but I didn’t mind one bit.  When all that was said and done, we spent another 45 minutes with Janelle, the infusion nurse, who went over the full course of therapy and specifics of what’s coming and what to expect.

I was taking notes as Janelle talked so as to be as accurate as possible.  I realize that I have a little more medical expertise, so am paraphrasing the more technical aspects of what she said to make it more understandable to non-medical readers.  Here is the “cut to the chase, just the facts, Ma’am” version a la Joe Friday from Dragnet:

The treatments will begin with accessing the transdermal, sub-phreno osseo revergitating, galvanic squamous gelatinite through a simple process of reverse osmo chrysallic thrumbo strapullian instillation.  This, in turn, will result in the egress of the outflow tract of the sub xerophytic, flangian Avogadrian quasi colloidispherical semi luminiscal chemo therapeutic fluxism.  At this point, the thermoregulatory encrypted prions of the aforementioned fluxism will need to be circumferentially redirected through the islets of Langerhans via the sub-equatorial crenellations.  This, being a critical step in the whole process, will require close monitoring through a previously arranged portal for the Franz Kafta kebabian incubus.  At this juncture, the cruciferollius discombobbitizes the soylent green via a gymnoelastic dingle shaft fluxor resulting in an antipyogenic sterile cuckholdian flamdoodle.  The multi disparturian fallo-oophorian applebeesian strudel und schnitzel vit noodles sequentially supinates toward the oscillatory thrimjig of the molokini sporulations.  This infuscation will then kiegelitate…a simple process in which the kalipygian steato heptadiode motates and mishkinizes its humptillian throckmorton.  Repeat weekly till 18 sessions are done.

All kidding aside, Gabrielle will be getting two different medications: one through the portacath in her upper chest every week for 18 weeks, and a separate one every three weeks instilled directly into her peritoneum (abdominal cavity).  As such, every third week will be the toughest as she will be getting two medications.  Her first treatment is set to begin in three days.  The medicines have the potential to decrease her white blood cells, platelets and red blood cells.  Therefore, prior to each session, she needs a blood draw to make sure everything is OK. 

Common side effects include fatigue (a huge problem), nausea, a metallic taste in the mouth, peripheral neuropathy and (sadly) hair loss, all of which we expected.  Gabrielle will be getting a concoction of medicines prior to the treatments including steroids (dexamethasone), anti-nausea meds and some antacids as well.  She was encouraged to conserve her energy and focus on using what little energy she has wisely, picking the things that are most important to do first, whatever that may be.  Rest is important, but also activity.  She even got the go ahead to go to the gym—in modest amounts, once she is up to it (not right now). 

During our time with Dr. M., Gabrielle made a point of telling her that she didn’t want to know statistics about ovarian cancer at this stage, as the important thing is that she is one person fighting this, not simply a number.  She did ask if Dr. M. could give her a success story to hang her hopes on during the chemotherapy period.  Dr. M.’s face brightened into a big smile and quickly responded that she had tons of success stories and volunteered to contact one of her patients who has been through this same stage and beaten it and have her call Gabrielle with words of encouragement.  That sounds like a good plan to me.

Dr. M. had to race out as she is heading to a national conference where she will be speaking to her peers on, guess what?  Ovarian cancer!  Gabrielle and I feel very blessed that we have gotten someone so knowledgeable in her field that her peers look to her for the latest updates.  By comparison, the best I've gotten is publishing a tip in a medical journal on how to remove ear wax.

So now we’re back home, relaxing in front of the gas fire, and letting all this information sink in.  Gabrielle has just finished reading several very encouraging cards and is now asking for Kleenex as she never fails to be touched by the warmth and compassion that is expressed in them.  You are all very dear to us. 

Here’s looking ahead to Friday: day 1 of chemo!  You go, girl!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday greetings

Hello friends and family--Gabrielle here.

Happy Monday to you all!

I didn't sleep very well last night with so many thoughts swirling in my head, but it's great to know there are three couches and numerous beds within steps of me whenever I need to rest today.

Daniel is home with me and Renee will be home soon (since Monday's are her day off).  We are having a mellow morning.  We walked to the end of the block and back enjoying the ping of little ice chips melting off the trees on our street and feeling as though we were in London with all the fog.  We have been paperwork maniacs this morning.  All bills are paid.  Tax statements are in the file awaiting our CPA's magic touch in February.  Medical leave paperwork is printed out and ready for my doctor to sign  tomorrow.  Daniel is busy writing thank you notes for so many kindnesses.  It feels good to accomplish a few things!

Reflecting with thanks about simple pleasures.  Yesterday I was in heaven having a long, heart-felt talk with my friend Sue while sipping tea by the fireplace.  Today I was so thankful just for a long hot shower and shampoo, all on my own. Even did the duct taping of the port-o-cath all by myself.  Have also been enjoying the little birds going crazy over the freshly filled bird feeder and suet outside my living room window.  And last night I was thankful for the escape of television.  Particularly, Hawaii 5-O.  Steve McGarrett and Danno are the two heroes, of course, and I like that I have my own Steve and "Danno" at home!   And my sweet Renee who is another one of my heroes each day.  Last night 5-O rescued Chin from near death in a prison riot.  Cancer is nothing compared to watching Chin and 5-O battle hundreds of rioting prisoners who trying to kill Chin!  And then there was Downton Abbey.  I only watched episode two last night--so don't spill the beans yet on episode three!  Hope to catch that one tonight.  It is so calming to escape to that lovely English estate with all the characters you grow to love (or despise, as in Thomas).

Now we will pull out some delicious leftovers from all of you who have so lovingly provided meals and have lunch.  Then some rest. Then another walk.  Simple days, simple pleasures.  Thanking God for the gift of life this day, and for all of you who are praying for us.  This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!  (Psa. 118:24)

Blessings!

Monday morning metaphors


Steve

She’s been home three days now and settling into a bit of a routine.  Therefore, not much new to report each day.  At this point, her progress is marked by little steps:  walking a little farther, eating a little more food, staying asleep a few more minutes.  She has lost so much weight since all this began and I would love to see her reverse that trend. 

The big events of this week are an appointment with Dr. M. and her staff to get the final pathology report and hear about the specifics of the chemotherapy.  That will be tomorrow.  Then on Friday, the chemo begins.  None of us know what to expect, though many have told us of their own experiences.  It is all a big black box at this stage.  I (or someone) will certainly keep you posted as to how these events unfold and how our little journey of discovery unfolds.

And now a brief word about metaphors.  There are all kinds of metaphors people can use for an experience like this, or life in general.  Some examples are …

-cowboy stuff.  A couple of times over the years, we have heard a cowboy preacher talk at the conference center at Cannon Beach.  His speech was peppered with analogies like, “hey, pardner, you’re welcome at my campfire any time” or “God is the trail boss and we’re all His l’il dogies”.  Stuff like that.  He even built a fa├žade of a western town around his fire pit in the south forty at home to lend a little atmosphere to his campfires.

-battles.  The first example of this that comes to mind is St. Paul discussing getting ready to face the enemy wearing the full armor of God in Ephesians 6.  Good stuff. 

-sports.  Fourth and long.  First and goal.  Hitting a home run.  Bottom of the ninth.  Bases are loaded (no, that’s not the inebriated string section at the symphony).  Hitting it into the rough.

These all tend to resonate with certain individuals, and perhaps not with others.  Well, here’s my metaphor that I keep coming back to:  sea voyages.  I have always loved the sea and have been fascinated by the early explorers who set out from a safe harbor to parts unknown on wonderful voyages of adventure and discovery, knowing full well the privations and perils that await them.  In my office, just over my desk, a map of the three separate voyages of Capt. Cook stands sentinel over me.  When things get rough and I am worn out, I look up at the various colored lines depicting his trips and think of what he went through and how things weren’t all that rosy for him (especially when he got to the Big Island of Hawaii).  I’ve immersed myself in books by or about Capt. Joshua Slocum (the first man to sail alone around the world), Ernest Shackleton, Magellan, Richard Henry Dana (Two Years Before the Mast), Moby Dick (read it three times, but it always ends the same…absolutely love it…and yes, I know this is fiction), Sir Frances Drake and many more.

One of the most interesting books about sea voyages that I have come across is Rounding the Horn, which simply details the difficulty of getting around Cape Horn at the tip of South America.  It has some of the roughest waters in the world.  It is also the only part of the globe where there is no land mass anywhere around those latitudes, so the waves can build up with nothing to stop them as they gain momentum and height.  If my oceanography serves me correctly, those waves have a very long fetch.  Not “fetch”, like Neptune telling the waves to fetch this boat to the bottom, but fetch in the sense that the waves travel unimpeded, having a chance to build up a head of steam (a train metaphor thrown in to keep you on your toes).

There is so much about a sea voyage that I can identify with.  You need a sturdy ship, a good crew, a skilled captain and navigator, and a vision of where you are going.  You need to be ready for hardships along the way and be prepared for everything from the doldrums, to intense storms.  Sadly, not all ships make it, but most do, and Gabrielle will too.  And right now, Gabrielle is rounding the Horn.  We are a well equipped ship with great crew (all you folks), a merciful Captain whom we serve and guides us, a sturdy ship, and a lot of faith. 

Thanks for shipping out on this journey with us.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Post-Surgery Thoughts


Steve

It is Sunday morning and the house is quiet.  I like that.  It means that Gabrielle is still asleep, giving her body a break from the pain and allowing her to regain her strength.  As for Gabrielle updates, that's it since the last note.  You can stop reading right here and we'll fill you in later when there is more to report than the sound of sawing logs (figure of speech..she would never do that!).

It has been a little over a week since Gabrielle's surgery.  In thinking about the procedure that Gabrielle had, I was reminded of the fact that it was very similar to the type of operation I used to perform in a different life as a veterinarian up in Lynden.  As I recall, Tuesdays and Thursdays were surgery days where my newly minted surgical skills were let loose in the operating room, often to perform a spay or a neuter.  Dee, my assistant, would help me anesthetize the animal and hook it up to the gas anesthesia machine, and then go off to clean teeth or pick out a bunch of ticks for a while (from an animal, not herself) and leave me alone to work my magic as anesthesiologist, surgeon, scrub nurse and surgical assistant all rolled in to one.  Every thiry minutes or so, she would pop her head in to see how I was doing (along with giving me an update on how many ticks she had removed).  Admittedly, being new, I was a little slow, so she would often make some snide comment about how Dr. Erickson was so much faster than me, as if speed is what you are after in a complex abdominal surgery. 

In veterinary circles, we casually threw terms around like spay or fix to apply to this sort of surgical procedure.  And I am not for one minute suggesting that Gabrielle got spayed or fixed, so don't go telling her I said that.  I am just saying there are similarities, that's all.  During a "spay", I took out the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes.  That's what Gabrielle had removed, plus a little extra on account of that pesky cancer.

One of the vets I worked with told me that we should stop using the term "spay" and start using a longer, more medically descriptive (and confusing) word so people understood the complexity of the operation.  He said that if we kept using "spay" and "fix", it sounded so simple that people would balk at paying more for it, if we wanted to raise our rates.  He proposed something like "total open hystero-salpingo-oopherectomy with general anesthesia", so we could get as much street cred as "the real docs".  For me, I preferred the term "spay"...but only as it applied to non humans, not my wife.

In trying to budget for Gabrielle's surgery out of my next paycheck, I did a little quick ciphering.  I seem to recall that we charged $75 for a spay.  I told my buddy from vet school, Dr. Sam (ace Yakima vet), that I was trying to remember what a spay went for and he said that I needed to account for inflation and that in Yakima, they are now around $175 and over here "on the coast" as the people in Eastern Washington call anything west of Snoqualmie Pass, a spay could easily run $250.  Wow!  And to think I was only getting $75!

So, at least I've got a ballpark figure.  I also know that Dr. M. did a little more than the routine, so I'll add a few bucks for that.  I am also aware that she needed the assistance of an anesthesiologist (from Harvard, no less!).  Do you think $400 will be enough?  We'll see.

[Addendum:  I just read this to Gabrielle and she doesn't mind the spay analogy, so I got the OK from her to hit "post".  Also, it is now Sunday afternoon and she is resting quietly after experiencing some sharp pain while on her walk.  So, no more walking for now.  We're all off to the basement to watch last week's episode of Downton Abbey so we can be ready when this week's episode airs at 9:00 tonight.  Let's hear it for Lord Grantham and company!]

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Saturday evening update

Steve

We've had a mellow and quiet day around the house, Gabrielle's first full day home.  She has been able to cut her pain pills back quite dramatically, which is a huge plus.  She is still in pain, but powering through.  I will leave the exact details of the inner workings of her intestines to someone else.  The other big event was a walk all the way to the end of our street with Daniel--down to the start at Fremont on one end, and then back the other way to the cul de sac.  It is so encouraging to see her strength slowly returning.  Oh, and she is eating real food now.  Not a lot, but much better than what she was doing.  Big smiles all around.

As for me, I keep thinking about songs I've been hearing on the radio.  Two, in particular come to mind.  The first one is that silly song about "Another one bites the dust".  It's sort of depressing at first run through.  But then when you think about it, doesn't it all depend on who or what is biting the dust?  Years ago, my buddy Kenny at what used to be Seattle Harbor Tours told me he wanted them to play that song as the recessional song at his wedding.  Yep, his lovely bride, Connie would have loved that.  But, to Kenny, he was another bachelor biting the dust.  Fortunately, common sense won out and he opted for another song (though I can't remember what it was).

But, how about cancer cells biting the dust?  I am all for that.  I think it would be a great song to play at the beginning of every chemo session.  If  there are any bits of tumor hiding in the recesses of Gabrielle's body, each and every one will be biting the dust left and right before the 18 weeks of chemo are done.

Then there's another song:  American Woman.  Oh, that's a depressing sounding one too, especially the line about: "I've got better things to do than sit around growing old with you".  What a lie.  I can't think of anything I would rather do than sit around growing old with Gabrielle.  It is my idea of paradise here on earth, with her by my side.  If I ever hear that song again, I will change the words to: "Ovarian cancer, stay away from me.  Ovarian cancer, set me free.  She's got better things to do than sitting around growing old with you." 

There's another song that I've been thinking about, though I haven't heard it lately: Simon and Garfunkel's "I am a rock".  I can't remember all the words, but they go something like this:  "I am a rock, I am an island.  And an island never cries; and a rock feels no pain."  Paul Simon makes the case for life being simpler if you go through life as a loner, not allowing yourself to be touched loving someone else.  I suspect he is actually saying the exact opposite, in an ironic sort of way, similar to Mark Antony's speech about coming to bury Caesar, not to praise him.  Though I may be rusty on the details of Shakespeare's version of the events as they happened in the Roman forum (or wherever he was).

I can see Simon's point, though.  One of the more appealing shows on T.V. I have seen in many years is that one on PBS about the old codger who builds the log cabin beside some lake in Alaska.  Just him alone in the wilderness, with a few assorted animals along the way.  It is so bucolic, tranquil.  You just want to move there and build a house alongside him.  But is being a hermit really the way to go?  Do I really want to be that island?  No way.

This is a long preamble to say that I am realizing more and more each day the rich tapestry of family and friends who have touched me deeply.  From the beginning of the horror of all this unpleasant news, we have transitioned from being shell-shocked, to a more positive experience.  We have been wrapped up in the arms of a terrific support network that is truly humbling to experience.  From the professionals at Northwest Hospital, to neighbors and concerned loved ones showering us with treats, dinners, bagels, flowers, potted plants, wonderful e-mails, silly videos from a certain cousin, affirming messages to phones, texts, comments on this blog--it is such an outpouring of love and positive energy that sustains me (and all of us) during the dark times.

So this is a big and very warm-hearted thank you to each and every one of you.  Your prayers and kindness have melted this rock many times over.  Who wants to live alone beside a lake in the wilderness when I have friends like you?  Now, let's all sing about the cancer cells biting the dust... 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Home Sweet Home!

Home Sweet Home!

Hi, Gabrielle here.  I could hardly sleep last night, tossing and turning with excitement (and yes, a bit of delirium from all the drugs that follow a major abodominal/cancer surgery).  What was I excited about?  The fact that they were going to let me OUT of the hospital by 10 AM today, Friday, Jan. 18.  So much to do--packing, finding the "going home outfit" (loose, comfy, clean?), having the I/V in my right hand removed and the port-o-cath in my left collarbone "de-activated" until I will need it again for chemo next Friday.  There were favorite nurses and CNA's who needed hugs and goodbyes, discharge orders to digest (don't lift anything over your head, only lift things weighing less than a jug of milk, walk, rest, take pills).  There were flowers and cards and tea and candles and many other treats to pack up and take home from the blessed readers of this blog.  And lastly, there were trips to two pharmacies to pick up all my new meds (one of which are daily shots to prevent blood clots that Daniel J. Dudley, future M.D. was taught to give to me by my favorite nurse, Kim.

I arrived home tired but elated.  Never has home looked so good.  I have walked three times through each room of the house today just smiling and taking it in.  Love, peace, favorite memories, and comforts await me in every room. Clean sheets on my OWN comfortable (not rubber air mattress) bed.  My lotion, my tissues, my blistex or Burt's bees at every turn.  My neighbors--we have the best neighbors!  Not to mention more flowers than you have EVER seen in one house in your entire life!  So beautiful!  So cheerful!  '

Oh, and did I mention there was a UPS package for me on the porch?  The note read "If you are opening this, it means you are in your cozy home and you have "earned" your very own "Mrs. Potato Head."  It was from my former SPU assistant, dear friend, and cheerleader--Ami Archibald!  I'm having fun taking off Mrs. Potato head's hair, replacing her bald head with her baseball cap, and imagining what I will look like about two months from now!  ;-)

Thanks to each of you, dear family and old and new friends, for your words and deeds of kindness and love toward me and my family.  Thanks for your continued prayers for my complete healing and endurance through the long battle ahead (well, only 19 more weeks--not all that long).  Thanks for the FOOD that is filling two fridges and now that I can eat again, oh, am I ever enjoying  your healthy, thoughtful, "healing" meals!

Lastly, I want to thank Steve, who though sick and needing to wear masks, visited me and did errands for me as often as he could this week while juggling home and bills and two jobs.  He is the real deal, thirty years and counting.  I want to thank Renee, as I did earlier, for girls nights in the hospital, great talks and spiritual comfort during the worst week of my life. I tell people she is my daughter, my friend, my pastor, and my therapist all rolled into one....and she IS.  And what can I say about Daniel who spent more hours with me in the hospital than anyone else, anticipating my every need and caring for me with a servant heart, just as Jesus washed the feet of the disciples.  What a great doctor he will make (and wherever that young woman is that I have been praying for since he was a baby...you know, the one who will be his wife one day...she will be blessed beyond belief by my sweet son.)  ;-)

Ultimately, I offer thanks to Jesus who heard me cry out in pain and despair "help me Jesus" about a million times this past nine days.  And He did.  What a privilege it is to know and serve Immanuel--the God who loves us and is WITH us.  Amen!

.


Home!

My mom's going home in an hour!!!!!  We're so happy!

There are only three things I'll miss about the hospital:

1. The molasses ginger cookies from Macrina Bakery.

2. The view of Mt. Rainier, the Olympics, and the city skyline.

3. The awesome RN's and CNA's--especially Premilla, who learned early in the week how much I rely on coffee, and subsequently found me whenever I was at the hospital (even when she wasn't assigned to our floor!) and brought me coffee and snacks.

As soon as we pack up and get my mom's IV out, we'll head home!  My mom is feeling much better now.  Her pain and nausea are under control, and she's walking without a walker.

Her next trip to the hospital will be on Tuesday to learn about chemotherapy and to get her staples removed.

Good job tackling the first obstacle, Mom!  We're so proud of you!

-Renee

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Night-Vision

2:00 pm

Hi, it's Renee.  Well it's Thursday and my mom is unfortunately still in the hospital.  We're hopeful that she might go home tomorrow, though we've been saying "tomorrow!" for about five days now.  She asked me to bring her more shirts yesterday, and I deliberately brought only two, hoping she'll be home within two days.  She must be getting so tired of the hospital.  I'm getting sick of it and I've been there much less than she has.  To that effect, I had a slightly disorienting experience over the weekend.  I walked from my car into the hospital via the long main hall on Sunday morning and went up to the fourth floor.  When I left the fourth floor on Monday night, thirty-three hours later, I headed towards the same hall only to find a freshly built wall in my way.  You know you've been in a hospital too long when the building's architecture literally changes during your stay.

Anyway, my mom's incision site is healing well, but she's still dealing with bouts of pain, nausea, and tremors from all the meds.  It's awful seeing my mom suffer.  I know my dad, Daniel, and I all wish we could take her place for a while and give her a break.  Unfortunately it doesn't work like that, so we're doing anything else we can to cheer her up and distract her.  Daniel came up with the idea of rationing out all the nice cards my mom's been getting, opening and reading one to her each time she has a small victory or a particularly discouraging challenge throughout the day.  She is so encouraged knowing you're all rooting for her.

Another favorite distraction of hers (and ours) is watching reruns of Frasier, inarguably the best sitcom of all time.  My mom wants me to try to persuade Kelsey Grammar (Dr. Frasier Crane) or David Hyde Pierce (Dr. Niles Crane) to come visit her.  She says to tell them she has cancer and that they ought to swing by if they're ever in Seattle.  I told her she's not that sick, but nice try.  With the word "cure" being tossed around, I'm not confident we have much pull with celebrities, though I'll at least try to get her an autograph if I ever get ahead of myself.

The good news of the day is that my mom's portacath is now up and running.  This means no more pokes for blood draws!  I think they can give her injections and IV's through it too, but you'd have to ask the science educated members of the family to be sure.  The plan is to start chemotherapy next Friday the 25th.  As I understand it, my mom will get chemo treatments in her abdominal port every week and also treatments in her portacath every third week.  Or maybe it's the other way around.  Either way, we're looking at eighteen weeks of chemo.  God willing, this will all be over in June!

Tangentially, can I quickly tell you about a dance performance I attended a couple years ago?  One afternoon my hippest friend dragged me down to a postmodern art gallery in Georgetown.  The gallery was in a converted warehouse littered with baffling works of "art," like a small TV showing only static, some dangling paper cylinders, and a visually cacophonous arrangement of fluorescent lightbulbs.  We were escorted to a dim back room that looked like a racquetball court and seated in bean bag chairs on either side of a large area rug.  Then--and I promise I'm not making this up--we were each handed a pair of night-vision goggles.  The lights went off and soft music started.  I waited for my eyes to adjust but there wasn't a trace of light to be seen.  So I obediently held the night-vision goggles to my eyes and witnessed something incredible: there in the middle of the pitch black room were three people dancing beautifully to the music.  I watched in awe as they followed a carefully choreographed routine--sometimes dancing together, then separating, then somehow finding each other again the darkness.  It was the most bizarre yet memorable performance I've ever seen.

I suddenly remembered that afternoon yesterday as I was processing all that my family is going through.  I remembered how a few times during that dance performance I put my night-vision goggles down to confirm that this was really all happening in pure darkness.  Return the goggles to my eyes, and there was the beauty.  The lens makes all the difference.  This strikes me as an applicable metaphor to the events of the last week.  Cancer is miserable; caring for a sick parent is hard; seeing pain and exhaustion in the eyes of loved ones is devastating.  But through the lens of our faith, my family is seeing beauty even in this dark time.  Where others might see only darkness, we have already found so much light: we're all drawing closer to God, we're building character, Daniel and I are growing up, we're feeling so loved by friends and family, and we're finding myriad opportunities to share our faith.

I have a new appreciation for the title of the old hymn "Be Thou My Vision."  I pray that God will indeed continue to be our vision in this time of crisis--the lens by which we find beauty and order where there is otherwise only darkness.

Thanks for checking in, friends.  You're the best!


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tooth Number 4

Steve

I spoke with Sally last night.  She's a dental hygienist and said that since she got the news about Gabrielle, she has been praying for her all day long.  How so?  Even I haven't been that diligent.  Well, she's got this wonderfully creative system.  As she works her way through a patient's mouth with all those fun little sharp instruments of torture, each tooth gets assigned a particular person.  The whole time she is working on that tooth, Sally prays for that person.  What a great idea!  I love it and am honored to know that all day long, when Sally gets to Tooth Number 4, Gabrielle is getting an extra prayer sent heavenward on her behalf.  Is it selfish of me to want Tooth Number 4 to be extra dirty so that she will spend more time on it?  Mea culpa.  Maybe tomorrow I can adopt her strategy and assign a different rubber glove to a different person throughout the day.  Probably wouldn't work.  I'd be tempted to keep Gabrielle's glove on all day long and I don't think my subsequent patients would like that.

On the "what's new with Gabrielle?" front, she's had a rough day.  You'll pardon my levity with the rubber glove comment because I am hoping she will read it and take a little cheer, at the expense of some morbid doctor humor (though I can get more morbid...don't tempt me).  The worst part about today is that her wonderful portacath, so carefully placed by the vascular surgeon who had to be flown in from Milwaukee got plugged and therefore needs to be adjusted tomorrow morning.  It is not as involved a procedure as when it was placed, but still requires another procedure, nothing by mouth after midnight and is discouraging as it represents a small setback.

Nothing on the quest for Mr. Potato Head front.  Still trying.  Spirits lagging.  Evenings tend to be the worst.  I just got a phone call from her and she wasn't doing well, even though she has Daniel, The Champion of the World staying with her tonight.  I drove down and hung out with the two of them for an hour.  She kindly let me rub her back and pretended that she needed lotion on her legs so that I could get close to her and rub them for a little bit as well.  She has been having me keep my distance because of my perceived cold (it's nothing, really...I had it checked out by a doctor:  looked in the mirror and pronounced myself fine).  Still, I am being cautious.  I wear a mask when I see her.  The worst part is that I haven't kissed her in three days.  I miss that.  And hugs.  Don't get me started on hugs. 

Her legs have been shaking uncontrollably for the last four hours.  As I was leaving, the nurse gave her some Ativan which seemed to help.  Nausea remains a huge problem, despite two different anti-nausea medications.  Has no appetite.  Had two saltines and three bites of applesauce around 10:30.  She needs a little more calories than that. 

So, that's this evening.  Here's hoping tomorrow is better and that a lot of people with really dirty number Tooth Number 4 will be seeing Sally all day long.

Anyone up for skeet shooting?

Steve

Yesterday's big event was the placement of a portacath (or Port-a-cath) so Gabrielle could get chemotherapy without having to get stuck with a needle every week.  It was supposed to be done the day before, but either the operating room couldn't accomodate her or there was no surgeon available to do the procedure.  On Monday late in the day, a harried Dr. Lerner bustled down the hall to introduce himself.  He is a vascular surgeon and had come directly from the airport, having just flown in from Milwaukee.  I like to think that Gabrielle is so special that they are flying specialists in to care for her.  I think he may have had other reasons for his Milwaukee trip, but that's beside the point.  He flew in for Gabrielle and that's good enough for me.

In the course of telling her about the procedure, he said that she had a choice between having it placed on right or left side just below the collar bone.  She didn't care, as long as it worked.  He asked her if she was right or left-handed, to which she replied "right".  It's not her fault she's not left-handed like me.  We can't all be special now, can we?  He helped her decide by asking her if she liked to shoot rifles, or something to that effect.  I'm not entirely clear as I was talking with someone else at the time.  I just heard words like "shoot" and "gun stock rubbing against the portacath".  That sealed if for her and she is now sporting it on the left, well out of the way.

I suppose it would be no fun to head out for a little friendly skeet shooting to hone those hand eye coordination skills and have the rifle butt keep pounding on the portacath.  Gabrielle laughed when asked if she was a hunter or liked to shoot.  No to both questions.  Although she is indeed excited that Cabela's now has a branch up north, she makes a beeline for the snowshoeing section when we go in there, not the camoflauge clothing that comes in oh so many styles.  Want to hide in a birch forest in winter?  In summer?  In a pine forest?  A swamp?  Have they got the clothing for you!  For the life of me, I cannot imagine why anyone would need camo underwear, but they've got it at Cabela's.  Feet get cold during those ice fishing jaunts?  Not any more:  heated camo socks, as if the darned carp hiding beneath two feet of a frozen lake really care what color your socks are. 

Still, I really admire Gabrielle's decision to have the portacath placed on the left side, "just in case".  There is somethign appealing about Gabrielle, in all her post hospital glory, going out to the shooting range and ordering up a box of skeet to shoot at.  Is it a round?  A box?  A flurry?  A bolus?  As is very clear, I am not a skeet shooter either and don't know what units they come in.  But if she does take up the sport, she'll no doubt take along a Sharpie and write "ovarian cancer" on each and every clay pigeon prior to having it launched.  There would be a lot of satisfaction in yelling "pull!"  And blasting the target to smithereens.

"Ah, but what if she misses?"  You might ask.  Hardly!  If you haven't already figured it out by now, Gabrielle is very competetive (in a fun way) and masters anything she has set her mind to.  Those stupid clay pigeons won't stand a chance in the sites of Gabrielle's rifle.  She would practice, practice, practice till she got it.  She would read books, watch DVD's and even start hanging out in the cafeteria of Cabela's seeking the advice of old time skeet shooters, while noshing on one of their tasty elk burgers, till she mastered the sport.  And ovarian cancer, likewise, will bow to Gabrielle's superior will, inner strength and vast array of weaponry she has to throw at it (including, but not limited to her vast network of friends, doctors, nurses, medicines, and the like). 

She does have a bit of history with guns.  Goes way back, when she was in high school, I believe.  Got a job at Fishing and Hunting News selling advertising or subscriptions (yes, aced that job too!).  We have a faded picture somewhere in the basement of her shooting at something with two admiring boys in tow.  Yep, that's Gabrielle.  Even back then, showing off for the guys.  And that's the last time she shot a firearm.  Till now.

But, she got the portacath placed just fine and is doing well.  Daniel stayed with her through the day yesterday.  Renee had night shift (lucky her).  She went on walks and is managing as best she can, as she is trying really hard to earn her very own Mr. Potato Head doll (no news on that front, as I am home now).  I am actually hopeful that she may be able to come home later today, but it's an outside chance.  Needs to have better pain and nausea control as well.

She remains in very good spirits and has been buoyed by the overwhelming show of support through your cards, notes, texts, e-mails, food (yes, she is eating now), prayers and visits (but check first).  Thank you all so much.

A final note to Daniel:  thank you for your very deep and uplifting entry yesterday.  Why should you be intimidated by our writing?  You take a back seat to nobody in the writing department.  Keep it up, DJ!  Looking forward to another post from you today.