Friday, May 31, 2013

To my wife on this, her last chemo day.


Dearest Gabrielle,

Well, today’s the day, the one we have been eagerly awaiting since way back in January when we started this journey.  It seems so long ago.  In a few hours, you will pack your trusty chemo bag with your special blanket, snacks, hand-held Scrabble and People magazines and head off for your eighteenth and final treatment.

I want to take this moment to tell you how proud I have been of you in all of this.  From Day One, you have faced this pesky little problem with tremendous grace, courage and dignity.  Your resolve in fighting cancer has never wavered and your joy has shone like a beacon of hope.  You have been such an inspiration, not only to me but to countless people out there whose lives you have touched.  At a time when you have been at your most vulnerable, you have made it a priority to reach out and minister to others, helping them with words of wisdom, encouragement, thoughts and prayers.

The thing that has most struck me is your amazing faith and trust in God.  Your inner faith shines through so beautifully in your words, your blog entries and your calm demeanor throughout this journey.  Anger?  At a time when you have every right to be angry at God, that is not something that I have observed in you. You have an unwavering faith that God is on His throne and holds you in the palm of His hand and that wherever this journey takes you, God is there with you.  What better place to be?

You have reminded me of this verse from Isaiah and which I give back to you:

When you pass through the (deep) waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Is. 43:2-3

Please indulge me one more passage from the Bible.  This one is a little paraphrase of mine from Psalm 91.  It goes like this:

Psalm. 91.  Gabrielle who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Gabrielle will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."  Surely he will save Gabrielle from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover Gabrielle with his feathers, and under his wings Gabrielle will find refuge; his faithfulness will be Gabrielle’s shield and rampart.  Gabrielle will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.  A thousand may fall at Gabrielle’s side, ten thousand at Gabrielle’s right hand, but it will not come near Gabrielle.  If Gabrielle makes the Most High her dwelling—even the LORD, who is Gabrielle’s refuge—then no harm will befall Gabrielle, no disaster will come near Gabrielle.  For he will command his angels concerning Gabrielle to guard Gabrielle in all Gabrielle’s ways; they will lift Gabrielle up in their hands, so that Gabrielle will not strike Gabrielle’s foot against a stone. Gabrielle will tread upon the lion and the cobra; Gabrielle will trample the great lion and the serpent. "Because he loves Gabrielle," says the LORD, "I will rescue Gabrielle; I will protect Gabrielle, for Gabrielle acknowledges my name.  Gabrielle will call upon me, and I will answer Gabrielle; I will be with Gabrielle in trouble, I will deliver Gabrielle and honor Gabrielle. With long life will I satisfy Gabrielle and show Gabrielle my salvation.  Psalm 91, RSV*

(* Revised Steve Version)

Good stuff, huh?  It is almost as good as my favorite Bible verse: “Now, Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs” Acts 6:8.  Not sure why I like that one so much.  For some reason, it just speaks to me.  But that’s just a little aside.

I have been blessed to have you as my wife for over 30 years.  My love for you has never been deeper than it has been right now as we face this struggle together.  You are a champion and I admire you so much.  Thank you for everything.  Now, get into that ring and kick the stuffing out of cancer one more time!  Looking forward to a big celebration when all this is said and done and while you’re still hopped up on steroids.  Did someone say Mexican food??

Love,

Steve

p.s.  And, of course, a major thank you to Renee and Daniel who have been so amazing throughout this as well. You are the best children I could ever hope to have.  I feel so blessed and humbled to be your dad. 

p.p.s.  As for the rest of our “rope team”, a big thanks to you as well.  We could not have done it without each and every one of you.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Scrabble champ!

Steve

As Gabrielle may have alluded to on more than one occassion, she loves Scrabble.  It's a great way to kill time during chemo (or any other time, for that matter) as she schools Daniel or me (or anyone else wandering by) in this game of wit and verbal creativity.  She may have also mentioned that most of the time, she wins (though I did manage to eke out a rare victory on Friday).  She LOVES to win!  What she may have not told you is that I secretly photographed some recent sessions she has had with the Scrabble board, and am including them here for your perusal.  She also seems to think that having cancer means that she can make new Scrabble rules and has made two:

1.  The words don't have to touch.
2.  You can use any letter you want as a blank if you run out of the letters you need.

So here they are:

On this game, for some reason, I was the one playing words like "I" and "no", while she came up with "fighter" and "no quitter" and "butt".  Needless to say, she cleaned my clock on this round.  I protested over the word "butt", saying it was a little too racey for a family game like Scrabble.  I tried to make my own rule of: no "ifs, ands or butts", but she shot me down.  I guess you get veto power of new rules if you're the one getting chemo (emoticon wink inserted here....I don't know how to make those little doodads).


It's really hard to beat her when she gets the "x" and "z" and comes up with such nifty words.  I made "and", "on" and "can-er" (that's cancer, not canker, though it would be nice to be zapping the pesky canker sore I'm dealing with right now).

 

 


I thought I had her on this one, as I knew that the one who is supposed to hit the road is "Jack", but then she throws a curve ball at me and tells Zeke to hit the road.  I protested, to which she waved a "Q" in my face and told me that she could have told "Zaraq" to hit the road.  That shut me up.


I will leave it to your imagination as to what Gabrielle was thinking when she played those four blanks.  She just got a big grin on her face when she played them.  Rear?  Heck?  Snot?  Butt?  Can't think of anything else that might fit there...like I said, this is a family friendly game.


Can't argue with that!


Yep, thought I had her again when I threw the "nada" on at the end of her "nothing", then she pulls out her last letters and plays them on the triple word score...nothing like using your "z" in a triple.  I had no chance.  Perhaps this one should have read, "Steve...what are his chances of winning at Scrabble?  Nothing.  Nada.  Zip."


Good, positive thoughts.  Short game, but I couldn't think of anything to add after "cancer", so we called it good. 


There she is, playing a high scoring letter over the triple word score again.  Mega, mega points!  I couldn't protest too loudly at her good fortune to score so well.  After all, who wouldn't want a triple serving of Jesus at a time like this?  Or any time at all, for that matter?



And with that, we called it a day!

So, if any of you out there want to take her on, be my guest.  This is especially true if you like having your clock cleaned by Gabrielle.  Fortunately, she takes the same winning attitude into her chemo sessions and is closing in on being done with the whole shooting match.  Perhaps I should add "eyes on the prize".  Any way you slice it, she's a formidable opponent...mini golf, Scrabble, ovarian cancer.  It picked the wrong person to take on, that's what I say.

And with that, I'm going to sign out, eat some shrimp, and study the Scrabble dictionary.










Friday, May 24, 2013

One week to go!!!

Dear Friends and Family,

Gabrielle here.  I am thrilled to report that I completed chemo #17 today in four hours, 15 minutes!  After five days of the Neupogen shots in my stomach my white cell counts are good again.  Not only is this great in terms of allowing me to get chemo, it also frees me up to do a few more things (safely be in the grocery store, a restaurant, etc.) and has helped me avoid catching the Steve, Daniel, Renee horrible cold!  Amazing! 

Due to Daniel's cold, I went to chemo alone today.  But to my delight, Steve had a little break in his day and was able to ride his bike over from work long enough to cream me at Scrabble.  Now in my defense, you must know that we started to play EXACTLY when they started dripping into me a huge bag of Benadryl.  If you have ever taken that, you know it makes you SO sleepy!  Try playing smartypants Steve in Scrabble with sleep drugs dripping into your veins.  I'm not a poor loser...really I'm not...I'm just explaining the extenuating circumstances of my slaughter.  ;-)

Another happy surprise in the middle of chemo was that they brought me the most delicious dessert!  We often bring them cookies, so today they said it was my turn.  They brought me lemon cake (lemon has been my favorite flavor when nauseous), with lemon curd filling, topped with vanilla bean ice cream and whipped cream and fresh raspberries and blueberries!  Oh my goodness...it was so delicious.  I ate it for lunch instead of the quick string cheese, wheat crackers, and apple slices I had brought.

One shout out to Daniel--even though he has been sick as a dog all week, he arose before me this morning to pack my chemo bag and make me breakfast.  When I got home, he had gardened and then made a fabulous veggie lasagna and homemade foccacia bread topped with fresh garden rosemary and salt for dinner without letting me lift a finger.  And we only get to keep him for three more months, then he's off to live near the U.W. campus.  Twenty-something women of the world--if you come across a guy like this, grab him quick! (Daniel better not read this...he will be mortified.) 

As usual, I want to thank those who sent me loving, encouraging cards this week.  There is one friend who sends cards EVERY week and she knows who she is.  You are precious to me, as are all of you.  :-)  And thanks to the world's cutest newlyweds, Ami and Matt, who brought us an amazing Thai Food feast last night (Thurs. nights being my least nauseous night).  So good to spend time eating Thai food, playing Canasta, talking, and eating my Martha Stewart homemade hot fudge sundaes and Daniel's cookies for dessert.  Ami and Matt can eat like true Dudleys! 

I wish you were all here to see my little, tiny, minuscule, almost non-existent pink chemo paper chain.  Seven little links.  I'll ask Steve to put on a photo for you (most of you know that a technological genius I am not).  The end is in sight.  God, and all your prayers, love, and kindnesses have seen me (us) through.  My heart is overflowing with joy and hope tonight. 

In closing, on this Memorial Day weekend, we are to remember.  Let's remember and thank God for those who have given and risked their lives and limbs for our freedom and security...and "I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember your wonders of old."  Psalm 77:11.  I will always remember His faithfulness to me and my family and the gift of you who have been on our "rope team" for these last five months!

Love, Gabrielle

P.S.  This week's prayer requests--for Renee and Daniel to be healed of their colds, for me not to catch them (the colds, not the kids), and for the chemo-induced neuropathy pain in my hands and feets to quiet down and when chemo ends, to go away.  Thank you!!




Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hole-In-Wonderfuls Round 4!

Hello all! Sports reporter Daniel here.


The Hole-In-Wonderfuls have competed in three more mini golf cups over the last several weeks, and I am here to report to the blogosphere all the adventures:
In an attempt to play at every course around us, we drove north to Lynwood, WA for the 18 hole course at "Family Fun Center & Bullwinkle's Restaurant". This 18-hole championship miniature golf course offers 9 holes in a tropical, tiki, mid-century Hawaiian vacation-styled indoor course, and 9 holes outside in a pirate adventure theme. It was quite an experience! My mom and I noted how we could save a lot of money the next time we wanted a Hawaiian vacation, by just coming here! They even had a vintage sounding Hawaiian lounge music soundtrack. An added bonus, was the fact that we were playing around 11 am on a Tuesday, and there were no other players in site. It was like we were members of a highly exclusive mini golf country club!


Gabrielle preparing to sink her shot!
Mom and the large tiki!

One of the main advantages of mini golf over regular golf is the wide variety of ball colors

The Brady Bunch goes to Hawaii Edmonds!
After 9 holes in tiki land, we ventured outside where we tried our best to be under Paaaarrrrghhhh! (pirate joke). The course was nicely landscaped, with various shades of synthetic grass to emulate water and land. The best part was a simulated fight scene between pirates, and sea monsters, that included cannons, a sinking pirate ship, and life-like monsters. It was fantastic! I think mom was distracted by all the fanfare, which is why I was able to eek out a victory.

With our Hole-In-Wonderfuls mascot, Mrs. PotatoHead

My awesome mom and golf partner!

What fun monsters these were! A definite must next time you are looking for fun at 220th and Aurora Ave!

Tropical plants (real and faux) set the tone

At the end of our 18 holes, we could have also played lazer tag, driven go carts, hit balls in the batting cage, done the ropes course, or bumper boats, but instead we went to Chipotle and ate delicious burritos with guacamole and chips. Somehow that sounded better than a bucket of fried chicken at Bullwinkle's Restaurant.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Home Stretch

Dear Family and Friends,

Gabrielle here.  I can't stop thinking about the fact that when I pull off my little pink paper chain ring tonight, there will be just TEN rings left. That's right--ten days from tomorrow I will have my final chemo treatment!  Thus, on our walk today (in the pouring rain, I might add), Daniel and I had fun discussing what my top ten things things were to look forward to about ending chemo.  Of course there are many more than ten, but here are my Letterman's Top Ten--in no particular order. 

10.  Energy.  Today, like most people would feel after 16 straight weeks of chemo, I had little energy.  Barely enough to shower, brush my teeth, eat, and have a short walk.  Other than that it was just reading and t.v.  I can't wait to have a normal amount of energy again! 
9.  Hair.  Bye bye hats, scarves, and the wig I've probably only worn five times because it gives me headaches.  Hello to needing more shampoo than the size of half of a grain of rice to clean my scalp!

8.  Sushi.  Japonessa happy hour and fresh, raw fish--here I come!

7.  No nausea.  Nausea was much better when you knew that it was going to produce a beautiful new baby to love.  I so look forward to not feeling nauseous...though it was surely not a price too high to pay for medicine that has killed my cancer. 

6.  No metal taste in my mouth.  Try eating your next meal while sucking on a penny and you will understand how much I look forward to this one.  (Don't really try this...or if you do, have someone standing by to Heimlich you!)

5.  Crowds and Kids.  When your immune system is blasted by chemo, you are frequently told by your chemo nurses to avoid crowds, kids, and sick people.  I look forward to enjoying crowds and kids again....though if you are sick, please continue to stay away until you are well!

4.  Blue Cheese.  I love blue cheese and while on chemo, it's not the best idea to ingest moldy foods.  I have cheated on this one a time or too, but not without a large slice of guilt and anxiety.  Here's to the return of moldy cheese!

3.  Work.  I know.  All of you are counting down the days until your summer vacations from work while I am just gearing up to head back.  But it will be really great to have something challenging and meaningful to do with my days, to see my wonderful colleagues and donors again, and to receive paychecks again!

2.  Clean Kitchen Table.  If you've been to our house during chemo, you have probably been shocked by the arsenal of drugs lined up the full length of our kitchen table.  Soon it will be goodbye to pills for nausea, shots to make white blood cells, pills to stop the chemo from giving me heartburn, and on and on it goes.  I long to see only the old wooden table that Steve put the finish on, and that our kids grew up painting on, eating on, decorating cookies on, and scratching up with their silverware...and to see it completely bare again, with perhaps a cheery little plant or candle in the center. 

1.  Fridays.  After 18 Fridays being taken up by chemo, Daniel and I will both have our Fridays back!  We can unpack our chemo bag, return it to its rightful use as a gym bag, and actually schedule normal activities again for Fridays if we so choose.  Or perhaps we'll leave them gloriously free, uncluttered, unstressed.  To not overpack my schedule, as I am proned to do, would be a great lessen to take with me from having had cancer.  HAD cancer.  Past tense.  Thank you, Lord, for those glorious words!

Love,
Gabrielle


Friday, May 17, 2013

Done with last double chemo!!

Dear friends and family,

Gabrielle here.  My friend Clint from work, who is a fantastic writer/editor and has published many novels, thinks I use too many explanation points and smiley faces in my e-mails.  But even Clint would agree, since his own wife has had cancer, that many explanations points and smiley faces are needed to adequately describe how it feels to finish one's final double chemo!!! :-) :-)

The segs in my white blood cells were in the 400s last week, so I couldn't get chemo and needed to get to 1000, MINIMUM, this week.  They came in at 1040 (only a good number when thinking segs, not taxes)!  That's cutting it close though.  Daniel and I were majorly relieved to get chemo today and amazingly, it only took five hours exactly.  We watched one low-rated movie (What to Expect When You are Expecting), read a little, and I napped after the benadryl pumped into me.  I was way too sleepy to play Scrabble and risk losing to Daniel by 100 points!  We baked and brought chocolate chip walnut brownies for our cancer care team and saved out two for ourselves to enjoy with lunch.  Yummo!

Because my segs after double chemo will drop into the hundreds again, the same rules apply for this week: no crowds, no sick people, no kids, lots of hand washing and desanitizing things I touch often.  Tomorrow I start the stomach shots of neupogen again for five days straight this week with a repeat next week.  The shots should ensure that I will be DONE with chemo two weeks from today!  I am excited to begin tearing the pink paper chain links off our banister again tonight to countdown the final two weeks! :-)  If anyone you love gets cancer and needs chemo or radiation, make them a paper chain to count down.  You can put encouraging words on the inside of each link like "You can beat the _ _ _ _ out of cancer!" or a favorite Scripture verse or quote.  I can't tell you how much tearing off those rings each night has encouraged me.  Thanks, Renee and Daniel!  What awesome kids (excuse me--young adults) you are!

In my last blog, I think I mentioned something about wanting to "give back" some of the comfort I myself have received from God--and from all of you--during my cancer journey.  God has answered that prayer already!  Aside from the woman I support via e-mail in New York who has my same cancer (Linda), I was saddened to learn of two more women newly diagnosed with cancer.  One is the mother of one of Renee's SPU friends and one is a young mother that our former pastor's wife brought to my attention.  If you feel so led, please pray for these women and that perhaps I will have something in the way of comfort, tips, and HOPE to offer to them, reaped from God's faithfulness to me these past five months. 

After a rather dull week staying away from everyone, yesterday I walked with my friend and neighbor, Laura, when she got home from work.  And during the day, Daniel and I challenged our good friends, Frank and Heather, to a FIERCE game of putt putt golf at our favorite course in Redmond.  Frank is turning 80 in November (though he looks 60) and had petitioned us for a 10 point handicap due to his age.  Ha!  Daniel and I categorically denied his petition, stating that if anyone deserved a handicap, it would be Daniel, who has only had 23 years to work on his mini-golf putting prowess.  Besides, I have never met anyone more competitive--and who loves to win more--than Frank (though my colleagues and family might say that I hold that title).  I tried my best, but "weakened by weeks of grueling surgery, chemotherapy, and nausea" (ha again!), I came in second to Frank, who beat me by SIX strokes, the stinker!  Heather came in third and Daniel, a little off his game, in fourth.  He was a bit distracted by a pond full of huge frogs that he kept trying to catch for a closer look when he was between holes.  He's such a biologist and just loves all creatures, great, small, and slimy.  Out of respect for his painful loss, he and I are both sporting brand new frog tattoos on our necks (of the temporary variety, of course).  These remind us of the acronym F R O G--Fully Relying On God, as well as the frogs we frequently find while mini golfing!  And Frank--watch your back, as we are gunning for you next time!!  This evening Daniel went out with Renee and some friends and Steve and I enjoyed a sunny walk and talk before dinner (my friend Dean calls this a "walkie talkie), and played a rousing game of Scrabble (now that I was wide awake from the steroids given during chemo and the Benadryl had worn off).  I lucked out getting the high point letters and using all my letters once so I beat him.  But Steve put up a good fight, despite his lower point letters.  He's a formidable foe with word games, being someone who can finish a Sunday crossword puzzle with relative ease.  Then we watched some t.v.  A walk, a rousing game of Scrabble, and t.v. is what you call a pretty hot date night for two middle aged people after one of them has had a double dose of chemo, her sixteenth straight week of chemo, no less! 

Thanks to all of you who prayed for us and sent cards this week.  You know who you are and the cards continue to cheer us no end.  Thanks to Renee who visited this week and brought me a new flavor of Burts Bees lip balm--grapefruit!  Thanks to Gordie and Mary for a good laugh.  When they read in the blog that I couldn't get my last chemo they said "NUTS!"  Hence, they drove up here and presented us with a can of the most delicious roasted almonds I have ever had!  I munched on them at chemo today.  Thanks to my friend Judy who brought us really delicious and healthy homemade organic chicken and rice soup and a pretty pink hydrangea yesterday!  Thanks to Mike for making and dropping off more of his wonderful homemade yogurt!  And thanks to anyone else I'm forgetting who has shown us kindnesses that have touched our hearts and ministered to our bodies and spirits this past week. 

On my mind before I go to bed tonight is news we received today that our neighbor two houses down just died of a sudden heart attack less than one week after we chatted with him at a backyard bbq for another neighbor's birthday.  Steve spent a long time talking to him at that bbq.  He seemed totally healthy and fine, so it is shocking that five days later he has died.  If there is a lesson from this sad news, and a lesson from my cancer, it's the age old one that we seem to keep forgetting--to cherish the gift of life God has given us every single day.  What joy there is each day you wake up and you and your loved ones are all "o.k."  And joy in loving and serving the people God has put in your life, and receiving that love and those acts of kindness back from them.  Despite double chemo, there has been a lot of joy for me today--hanging out with Daniel at chemo, being told how much the Cancer Care Center staff loved our brownies, reading a sweet card that arrived in the mail, and beating Steve at Scrabble (Who is competitive? Not ME)!  Let's look for that daily joy and count our blessings.  It makes the hard stuff so much easier to cope with when we do that and hopefully, whenever our lives end, we will die content and without regrets.

Let me close with a Scripture Daniel and I read in our One Year Bible reading today.  At the start of John chapter 9, there was a man born blind and the disiples asked Jesus if he was blind because he or his parents had sinned.  Well, if you read the book of Job, you will see that there is no one to one correlation between sin and suffering (thankfully, for all our sakes)!  And Jesus confirmed that in John 9:3: "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." 

I hope that people can see how God's work has been displayed in my life and Steve, Renee, and Daniel's lives during "our" five months of battling cancer.  I know the four of us have seen Him working pretty much daily.  But as I near the end of the treament phase, you might catch me sneaking in a prayer now and then that goes something like this: "Lord, would it be ok if your work is displayed in someone else's life for awhile after I finish chemo on May 31? ;-)"  Not that I'm wishing for anyone else to get cancer--no how, no way, let there be no more cancer

Love,
Gabrielle

P.S.  Current prayer requests are for no trouble with getting my last two chemos and for calming of my peripheral neuropathy symptoms--nerve pain in hands and feet--caused by cumulative effects of the chemo drugs.  I was told today that it takes six months or so for the symptoms to go away after finishing chemo.  Nausea is actually easier to deal with than pain, so I'd gladly take the next five days of nausea if the hand/foot pain would go away!  Thanks for praying!! :-) :-) (That's for you, Clint!)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

MORE Great News!!!

Dear Family and Friends,

Gabrielle here.  We had just finished eating our molten chocolate cakes last night--a celebratory dessert for the great news of my clear body scan--when Daniel checked his e-mail and found the news that HE HAS BEEN ADMITTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON SCHOOL OF MEDICINE for entrance in August 2013...graduation, Class of 2017!

To help you understand the magnitude of this news, first, I must tell you that it is an answer to a prayer I have prayed nearly daily for the last five years.  The prayer went like this:  "Lord--please help Daniel to get into med school close to home, preferably at the University of Washington, so he will be near us and be able to get in-state tuition and graduate with less debt."  Steve, Renee, and Daniel have also been faithfully praying variations of this prayer for many months. 

Second, Daniel would like to make it clear that he gives all thanks and praise to God for what he terms "this miracle" of getting into his first choice medical school.  The odds were against him.  There were 5,000 applicants which made for a 4% chance that he would be accepted.  It is a stellar medical school, ranked number one in the country in primary care, family practice, and rural medicine, and ranked number two in the country in NIH funding for research.  In fact, it is ranked in the top ten in eight out of ten categories in which U.S. News and World Report ranks medical schools.  (Wow--I sound like I'm back on the development staff at the U of W where I started my fund raising career!)  But despite the odds, we believe Daniel was in the 4% because God wanted him at this particular medical school.  Only God knows all the reasons, of course.  But from my perspective, I believe God knew before all of us did that I would be fighting cancer and that our family would need Daniel in THIS Washington, not the other one (WA DC where his second choice school is located). 

We are so proud of Daniel--for his hard work, determination, and focus on the goal of medical school for this past five years.  But first and foremost, we are proud of his good heart.  It's a heart that loves God and loves people.  And a heart that wants to serve people by helping them heal from illness and injury, offering compassionate care and hope to those who suffer. 

And we are so thankful to God for this answered prayer on the same exact day we got the good news about my clear body scan.  "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights..."  (James 1:17)

Special thanks to all of you who have prayed with me for Daniel to get into the UW, and to Gordie Nygard, Dr. Koskela, Dr. Nelson, Dr. Long, and Dr. Streidl who believed in Daniel and wrote his letters or recommendation.  And thanks to Dr. Cunningham and Dr. Ellenbogen at Children's who opened the doors for Daniel to have such incredible research and pediatrics learning experiences.  Our hearts are full of gratitude to you all!

Love,
Gabrielle

P.S.  GO HUSKIES!  :-)


Monday, May 13, 2013

GREAT news!!!

Dear friends and family,

Gabrielle here.  This morning I had my CAT scan and instead of having to wait until tomorrow to get the news, Steve was able to get the results from the hospital today.

I am overjoyed to report that my scan was ALL clear...with NO evidence of metastatic disease!!!  We are giving thanks and praise to God in the Dudley household today, not only for His healing work in my life through this course of chemotherapy but also, for all of you who have stood by us with prayers, love, and kindnesses.  Thank you SO much! 

We still have a little ways to go.  We need my segs (part of white cells) to go up from the 400s to around 1,000 in order for me to get chemo Friday, which my chemo nurse today said might be "iffy."  I have to finish three more chemos to complete my treatment phase.  It would also be great if my CA125 came down a little by the end of chemo, maybe from 18 to below 15.  So these are some specific things you could pray for this week for me. 

It is very difficult for a "social butterfly" like me to be in "seclusion!"  Opening my calendar for the week and seeing NOTHING fun, only medical appointments, is a bit of a bummer.  But I am doing my very best to not get sick or catch any germs of any kind from anyone...especially from Steve.  His cold is getting better, but is not all the way gone yet, so I'm keeping my distance (much to his chagrin).  I guess that's another prayer request!

I also wanted to share that I had a very encouraging e-mail this weekend from a woman whom I have not yet met, but will meet soon, who is a 30-year survivor of ovarian cancer.  Her e-mail lifted my spirits (as I worried about what my CAT scan would show) and gave me hope.  I look forward to the day that I will be healthy and strong and can give back encouragement and hope to others facing cancer or any similar hardship, just as it says in this verse I love:  "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." (2 Cor. 1:3-4)

My heart is rejoicing today...please rejoice with me!  :-)

Love,
Gabrielle

P.S.  Thanks to my dearest ones, Steve, Renee, and Daniel, for my awesome Mother's Day, complete with chocolate chip pancakes, a walk, lots of flowers and a toaster (what Mother's Day is complete without a new appliance?!), and two "edge of your seat" episodes of Grey's Anatomy!  And thanks to my college friend in California, Janet, who bought us gourmet pizza for dinner! 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Setbacks

Dear Family and Friends,

Gabrielle here.  Yesterday promised to be an awesome day.  We were going to go out to dinner with Renee, the weather report was for afternoon clearing, and Daniel and I were sitting on the Bremerton ferry on our way to a cool mini-golf course when my oncologist's office called.  Bad news part one:  my white cell counts are too low to get chemo this week.  My segs, the part of the white cells that allow you to fight an infection are in the 400s.  Normal range is 2000 to 7000.  I am at very high risk for infection right now and need to avoid all crowds, children, sickness, and germs this week.  This is particularly difficult with Steve having a terrible cold!  After getting this news yesterday, we cancelled our dinner out with Renee (bummer) and Steve came home from work and put on a surgical mask for the evening to help keep me safe.  What a good husband.  :-)

Bad news part two:  my CA125, the cancer tumor marker in my blood, went up for a second time.  It has gone from the 15s to the 17s to the 18s over the last three weeks.  I am still under 20, and in the NORMAL range, but because of the "slight" upward trend, which can be worrisome, my doctor suggested a CAT scan on Monday to hopefully, put our minds at ease.  Of course, just her suggesting that does the opposite of putting my mind at ease!!  She wouldn't let me get the CAT scan today (Friday), because it's too dangerous for me to be at the hospital today, where sickness abounds, with my counts so low. 

What are we doing about the low counts?  First and foremost, praying!  But also, the doctor is not giving me neupogen shots this week.  She wants my body to create its own white blood cells which are stronger and last longer than the ones the shots can produce.  Then hopefully, I can get my last double chemo next Friday and we will follow that with a week of the shots to enable me to get the last two single chemos.  That is the plan, and I am glad God "knows the plans He has for me...plans to give me a hope and a future!"  (Jer. 29:11)

Remember in the Sound of Music when the Von Trapp children go to the Abbey looking for Maria and the sister who answers the door says "I'm sorry children, you can't see Maria because she's in seclusion?"  Well that's what my week ahead looks like--I'm in seclusion!  I am disinfecting things that Steve touches (like this computer I'm typing on got disinfected before I started) and staying on the other side of rooms from him, while basically avoiding people in general.  I will still be going outside for walks, of course.  Just not to the grocery store or gym or, very sadly for me, to the Wellspring Luncheon at SPU on Tuesday.  I am so proud of my program coordinator, Rachel, who planned all the details of this luncheon on her own in my absence, and am just sick (well, let's not think about me getting SICK) about missing it!

I want to close with thanks to those of you who sent cards and notes this week, thanks to my friend Patricia who bought me lunch and gave me great dark chocolate, and to my friends with whom I had good walks/talks this week.  Special thanks to our friend and financial advisor, Howard, who came to my home for our meeting this week and reassured me that despite the high cost of battling cancer, we are not broke yet!! 

But also, I want to close with a special note I received yesterday, on the day I got all the discouraging news.  It is from my friend Loretta who is a six-year cancer survivor.  Here is what she said:  "Dear Gabrielle, Seven years ago you sent me this wonderful, encouraging card, filled with the anticipation of summer and life getting back to "normal."  I give these words back to you with praise to our Lord that His love and faithfulness is the same yesterday, today, and forever!"  And here is what I said to her, in that card from 2006, that she copied back to me yesterday:  "Dear Loretta, This card is to remind you that a month from now, your treatments will be done and you will be relaxing by the lake with the warm sun on your face, enjoying a beautiful and healthy summer!  I have been inspired and encouraged by your faith, hope, and strength through this past year's trial.  God shines through you and you are a blessing to me.  Praise Him for His compassion and mercies which are new every morning." 

Please pray with me that despite the setbacks of this week, that I will be DONE with cancer and chemo a month from now, enjoying a beautiful healthy summer, just like Loretta was.  Let's pray that my cancer will not recur, just like Loretta's has not.  And let's give thanks to God for the blessing of friends who come alongside us in our trials, and for His love, faithfulness, compassion, and mercies which are new EVERY morning!

Love,
Gabrielle

P.S.  I beat Daniel by one point at golf yesterday, but he got his second hole in one.  I have yet to live up to our team name "Hole-In-Onederfuls," but am confident that I will one day!


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Vancouver Trip O-13!

Vancouver trip O-13! Daniel here, to report on a successful and exciting trip north of the border. My mom received word from a friend that Amtrak was featuring a buy one get one free special on train tickets. We figured it would be the perfect opportunity to get some distance between us and Northwest Hospital, and enjoy some fun vacation time in a different city. Tickets purchased (a steal at $32 each roundtrip), bags packed, away we go!

I had not taken too many train rides, so it was extra exciting for me to ride the rails. We were dropped off at Edmonds by Steve/dad, and within a few minutes of the train arriving we were happily in our seats! This already was better than going to the airport! The train traveled along the Puget Sound for most of the way, which afforded us the most spectacular views of marine life, the Olympic Mountains, sky, clouds, trees, and the occasional waving beachcomber. It was just spectacular! At one point, we we even saw a bald eagle that flew right next to the train for almost a minute, it was awesome! Another nice thing about taking the train is how quickly you get through customs, or at least, some passengers do. While it sometimes takes over an hour to get through customs in a car, the train just goes right through to Canada, and you simply get your passports checked by Canadian customs officers once you arrive at your destination station. I was hopeful as I saw almost every passenger in front of us quickly let through after a cursory glance at the passports by the Customs agent, but when mom got up there, something triggered a "random search" and we were directed to a side room. I don't know if it as the almost bald head, large bag containing needles (her neupogen shots to raise her white blood cells), or my temporary neck tattoos that set the guard off, but there we were, the only ones on the train getting our bags searched. Thankfully it was pretty quick and they were quite friendly, especially when they found out mom was in chemo. The officers even were kind enough to write down walking instructions to our hotel! Thanks Canada!


Here are some of the fun things we did during our 1 night stay in Vancouver, B.C.:


La Taqueria Pinche Taco Shop: We ate lunch at this AMAZING taco place. Mom had eaten here before on a business trip to Vancouver, and she told me it was fantastic, I was skeptical, as we have some pretty good taco trucks here in Seattle, but I was blown away! These tacos were so good! Fresh, quality ingredients, rich, delicious sauces, a variety of homemade salsas, and a fun atmosphere as well! Fantastic! Here we are posing with our delicious tacos! Next time we want to go on Wednesday so we can get 6 tacos for the price of 4! 
 

Walk to Stanley Park: From our hotel downtown we walked to Stanley park. About 3 miles each way (I tell you, people think my mom would be worn out from chemo, but I'm 23 and I can hardly keep up with her when we are walking :-)), this is a lovely walk along the body of water known as Vancouver Harbour. There is a very nice walkway that is divided for wheeled individuals and individuals on foot. We loved looking out at the water, and seeing all the cool boats in the harbour. Getting to Stanley park was a long walk, but totally worth it, as it is one of the most beautiful parks I've ever been to. At 1000 acres, Stanley park is larger than Central Park in new York (843 acres), and far prettier in my opinion. There is so much to do here, we only wished we had more time and bikes to get around better.
Mom in front of the largest tulips! Along walk Vancouver Harbour walkway towards Stanley Park.

In front of Vancouver Harbour, I'd take any of those boats!

Granville Island: We love Granville Island! Although it is really more of a peninsula, it feels like an island because it is so different from downtown Vancouver. Filled with shops, restaurants, and artist studios, Granville Island is a great place to mosey around. The best part for food-lovers like us, is the marketplace! Like Pike Place, this farmers market offers delicious and fresh produce, meats, cheeses, seafood, pastries, and prepared foods. We wanted to eat everything! However a few of our favorite pastries were: blueberry bread from Terra Breads, chocolate almond croissant from La Baguette et L'Echalote, and nanaimo bars from a place whose name I can't remember. Everything was so delicious! Another great thing about Granville Island is arriving via the world's smallest ferry! I don't know if it is actually the smallest, but it was the smallest I had ever seen! It fit about ten people and was operated by one person who goes from the dock near downtown to the dock at Granville island. For a couple of bucks you get a scenic trip on an adorable little ferry (see pics below!)


My beautiful mom in what looks like a Hamlet of England, when we are actually five minutes from downtown Vancouver! This is why Granville Island is so cool!
World's smallest ferry! The captain was the girl on the far right of this picture, she loaded passengers, captained the boat, took cash, made change, and docked the boat all by herself! I was quite impressed!
Terra Breads at Granville Island! If you are ever here, you MUST try the blueberry bread! I have never had anything like it! Chewy, moist, rich, tart, sweet, and delicious.
La Baguette et L'Echalote was fantastic! We got the almond chocolate croissant on far right.
View of downtown Vancouver from Granville Isalnd. I'm amazed at how many condo skyscrapers are in Vancouver. Condo city!
Granville Island! (actually a peninsula)
Sweet tooth Gabrielle was in heaven :-)
Our fun ferry ride to Granville Island!
Fish and Chips: The best Fish and Chips I have had in a long time are from Go Fish just a short walk from Granville Island. These are amazing! Crisp, perfectly fried fish, served with hand cut, crispy french fries. The fish was so fresh, moist, and cooked perfectly. Also, I am not usually a coleslaw fan, but they did a coleslaw with a vinaigrette that was light and peppery, which was very delicious. Mom loved her halibut and chips, and I loved my cod and chips. This is worth a trip to Vancouver, just for these fish and chips! Also, we sat and ate them on a bench overlooking False Creek and downtown Vancouver. Simply gorgeous!

Cod and chips!
Best fish and chips ever!
Halibut and chips!

Beach walk: After getting our fill of fish and chips (I ate way too many fries), we decided to walk it off. With perfect sunshine and a light breeze, we made our journey across the Burrard Bridge, and turned left on the Seaside Bicycle Route past Sunset Beach and English Bay Beach. It was beautiful weather and we felt truly blessed to have such a wonderful mini vacation. I was thinking on that walk that there are a lot of things a cancer diagnosis can take away from you-- strength, physical well-being, emotional energy, hair, etc. But there are even more things cancer can't take away from you. It can't take away the beauty of God's creation (very evident in beautiful British Columbia), it can't take away our faith that we are sons and daughter of God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, it can't take away our hope that there is healing and that God performs miracles all the time, it can't take away our relationships with friends and family who give us so much love and support, and it can't take away the joy of a perfectly fried piece of freshly caught Alaskan Halibut with malt vinegar! Yumm! :-)

Mom on the Burrard Bridge! A beautiful view of downtown and False Creek entering English Bay (beach on right is Sunset Beach) 
Mom in front of the Vancouver Olympic statue (an inukshuck, an ancient Inuit symbol)

Some cool art by English Bay Beach. Mom is throwing the shaka (hang loose symbol)

This is my "yes! my mom is almost done with chemo!" face
Gelato: Our favorite treat while in Vancouver has always been gelato. When we first came here when I was a little kid, Seattle hadn't gotten on the gelato bandwagon yet, so we were in awe of this delicious, powerfully flavored Italian treat! Our favorite place was called Mondo Gelato, and we thought it was out of business, but we realized on this trip, that it simply had changed its name to Gelarmony. This is the best gelato in Vancouver! Fantastic, homemade with fresh ingredients. Delicious! 
My sweet mom with her sweet treat! I think this was raspberry and coconut gelato. Yummo!

All in all, a fabulous trip to Vancouver B.C.! It was so nice to get away from the city and not think about chemo for a little bit! Thank you for continuing to pray for my mom. Our family has felt the prayers, and we feel extremely blessed to be surrounded by so many loving and compassionate friends, family members, and coworkers. I am eternally grateful for your support of my mother through this journey. -Daniel

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Update on a sunny Tuesday

Dear Friends and Family,

You are all probably going CRAZY wondering how our first ever shrimping expedition went.  I am happy to report that it went "swimmingly!"  We caught 105 spot prawns.   If we had stayed out the final two hours (until 3 PM) we probably could have turned that into 130 or so.  Our two licenses were good for up to 160.  See photos of the cute little creatures below.  Steve, Daniel, and Dean did a fantastic job pulling up the super heavy pots at record speed (and Renee pitched in a little on that too).  Renee's job was to decapitate them (the prawns, not Steve, Daniel, and Dean) with her bare hands, which she was a pro at after one or two tries.  And my job was to hold open the ziploc bags to Renee could toss the headless prawns into the bags before we put them on ice.  When we got home, we cooked up the first bag of them (20 to a bag) and had our neighbor Jerry and his son Kevin over for a little pre-dinner appetizer feast.  They were delicious!

In other news, yesterday was "spa day" for Renee and me at the Willows Lodge Spa.  We started out sunning ourselves by the large outdoor jacuzzi on comfy cushioned lawn chairs, and then they called us in for a full body exfoliation with pomegranite scrub.  After that got rinsed off, leaving us with baby soft skin, we had one hour massages, which were heavenly.  Then we were served a spa lunch while getting our pedicures (I ordered the crab/prawn cobb salad and Renee ordered some sort of sandwich/salad combo...she loves sandwiches almost more than life itself).  We loved our pampering and our bonding time together and wish to thank Steve for this gift and to tell him we would like to receive this gift once a year, please.  :-)

Today I had a good one-hour exercise walk through Edmonds with my friend, Colleen (she and Mike are the ones who give us homemade yogurt...and I gratefully came home with some).  While I was away, Daniel planted all our annuals along the driveway that he and I had picked out this morning at the nursery.  Gorgeous bursts of color to give us some much needed curb appeal and something to cheer us as we drive home from chemo visits! 

Though I had a good walk today, yesterday I only made it 20 minutes on the elliptical and was out of breath with a racing heart.  I fear my blood volume is dropping again and expect that next week I will receive what I hope is my last blood transfusion.  In anticipation of that, Daniel gave blood yesterday.  He is A negative just like me (as is Renee, who has given many gallons of blood and platelets in her young life) and perhaps they will give me Daniel's blood next week.  I hope so, because he is so full of energy.  Perhaps some of it will rub off on me!

Since Thursday night this week is my best eating night (day 18 before we begin the final chemo cycle), Renee is treating all four of us to dinner out!  We are going to try Bizarro Italian Cafe in Wallingford which Steve and I used to go to when we were dating years ago.  It was recently profiled on the Food Network for their homemade pastas and I can't wait to try it again after all these years. If you decide to go, please do NOT go Thursday night, as they don't take reservations and I don't want you to make the waiting line longer!  ;-)

Steve has caught a sore throat and cold that is worsening so I am trying to sit on the opposite side of the room from him and am praying I don't catch it.  I don't want anything to interfere with my final three chemos.  I am SO ready for them to be over!  Please pray for Steve to heal quickly.  It makes me sad to see him feeling so miserable.

Lastly, I am reading a good novel called the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.  He's a 65 year-old man in South England who gets a letter from an old friend that is dying of cancer in a hospice in North England.  He decides to walk to see her--all across England--with a somewhat crazy belief that if he walks to her, she will hang on and she will live.  Anyway, as he walks he meets all sorts of people and has many growing insights about his past, his mistakes, and the human condition.  I particularly liked this quote I just read after he had met a hurting man during a stop for tea:  "Harold sat in silence.  The silver-haired gentleman was in truth nothing like the man Harold had first imagined him to be.  He was a chap like himself, with a unique pain; and yet there would be no knowing that if you passed him in the street, or sat opposite him in a cafe and did not share his teacake.  Harold pictured the gentleman on a station platform, smart in his suit, looking no different from anyone else.  It must be the same all over England.  People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appaling weight of the thing they were carrying inside.  The inhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday.  The loneliness of that."

I like this quote because when I first was told I had a life-threatening cancer and got home from the hospital but still had my hair, I would stand in line at the grocery store and look at the others around me.  I would think to myself, "no one here has a clue that the normal looking woman standing next to them in line has 44 fresh staples forming a train track up her abdomen and is about to start a grueling 18-weeks of chemotherapy which may or may not save her life.  They have no idea of the terror she is feeling right now as she buys her milk (well, in my case, it was probably very cold milk in a Ben & Jerry's container). 

I want to always remember that those around me may look like they are going about their days in normalcy when on the inside, they could be carrying an appaling weight and bearing the loneliness of that.  I hope that words of kindness, smiles, prayers, cards, or a helping hand will make a difference.  Just like all your kindnesses to my family and me have helped lift the weight of what we are going through and made it far less lonely.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!

Love,
Gabrielle