Friday, September 15, 2017

You've Got to Be Kidding Me

Dear Family and Friends,

Nobody wants to get a phone call at 3AM.  You are startled awake and your mind begins to race.  Is it an elderly parent who has fallen and broken a hip?  Where are your children—are they safe in their beds?  Will it be the police telling you there has been an accident and you need to rush to Harborview Hospital ER?  Or could it be your Mom (my Mom, actually), calling your hotel room in Rome to tell you the U.S. has just bombed Libya, “which is only 600 miles from you—you must head north immediately!”  (Don't worry!  This happened in 1986!  No new Libya bombing!)  In general, 3AM phone calls are never good.  But neither are 3PM phone calls, as you are leaving University Village on an ordinary Wednesday.

Because it is no longer legal to use cell phones while driving and my Bluetooth was on the fritz, I pulled over to the side of the road to look at the call I was receiving and saw that it was from my oncologist.  Deep breath.  Mild panic.  Quote Scripture to self: “When I am afraid, I will trust in thee.”  Psalm 56:3

And then the bad news.  After a clear cancer scan in July, and only two months of remission, my CA125 ovarian cancer tumor marker had nearly tripled, from 26 to 71.  The high end of normal is 35.  The cancer is growing again.  YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!  I had just begun walking up hills again without getting out of breath.  My nose bleeds were winding down.  My appetite and other bodily functions were all normal again.  So many friends had sent me congratulating texts, cards, and e-mails for finishing chemo.  And I had just completed many days of planning, ticket purchasing, and hotel and rental car booking for our trip to Spain and Portugal this fall.  But here I was, on the side of the road, being told that I must return to the University of Washington Medical Center on Thursday, September 14, to resume my double drug chemo (Taxol and Avastin).  Quote another Scripture to self: “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

I asked the oncologist if I should cancel my trip to Europe.  “No—you should go!  We will just be sure to get in three, weekly chemos before you leave."  Chemo number one was yesterday.  I was going to go to chemo alone this time, as Steve and Renee were working and Daniel was taking a big neurology clerkship test.  But Daniel finished his test and surprised me by showing up just as I arrived for my appointment.  Hooray!  Company during the four and a half hours of chemo makes the time go by much quicker.  The only bummer was he used all seven of his letters on a word (which we call a “bingo”), got his 50 bonus points, and beat me at Scrabble. 

Remember when I told you that you should never attend a charity event that involves eating for three solid hours immediately after chemo?  Like I had done last year when I attended the Feast at the Market to support NeighborCare Clinics?  Well, as I hadn’t known I was going to return to chemo so quickly, immediately after yesterday’s chemo, Daniel and I drove an hour and a half to West Seattle to attend a gourmet event to benefit low-income senior housing at the Pike Place Market.  You start out eating two or three of each of the passed appetizers (fresh tuna, prawns, and stuffed mushrooms).  Then you head out to the deck, overlooking the water and Seattle skyline, and help yourself to all the fresh oysters you can eat from Taylor Shellfish.  Next you grab a plate and help yourself to an assortment of gourmet cheeses, crackers, and fresh fruits.  Oh, and you mustn’t forget to get a drink at the bar, of course, despite the fact that each course you will be eating later in the evening is paired with a perfect wine.   As alcohol and chemo truly don’t mix, I tried the dry apple soda.  Yum.

Next, you get to enjoy a progressive dinner, moving through three different round tables throughout the evening, each one hosted by a top Seattle chef!  The chef teaches you how to make his/her entrée right at the table, gives you the recipe, and at some tables, you are the actual sous chef, doing the chopping, stirring, or whatever.  At our first table, the chef from Purple Café taught us to make Dungeness crab cakes.  They were good, but honestly, not as good as Daniel’s crab cakes!  At our second table the sous chef from Salty’s on Alki taught us to make scallops, with a spicy rub, sitting atop fresh creamed corn with two sauces!  And finally, the head chef from Salty’s taught us to make fresh seared halibut with an asparagus, wild mushroom beurre blanc.  We completed the evening with one, perfect dark chocolate truffle, rolled in cocoa nibs. 

I had to pause at the crab cake table to stop eating and let a large wave of nausea roll in.  But the minute it rolled back out to sea, the eating continued!  During all this eating, there are pauses for raffle drawings and a live auction.  And at 10 PM, we headed home, amazed that I had eaten all that good food just a few hours after chemo.  Did I have a stomachache when I went to bed, which has continued through most of the day today?  Yes, of course!  Do I regret going, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!  J

One touching moment at the event last evening was when a woman sitting next to me at the scallops table overheard that I had just come straight from chemo to eat all this good food.  She then looked at me, and my closely cropped crew cut hair, and proceeded to burst into tears.  Not one single tear rolling down her cheek—these were heartfelt, gut-wrenching sobs, that would not stop.  I thought she must be the most empathetic person in the world if she was crying over me having cancer.  And indeed, she was very dear and sorry for my situation, but it turns out that she had just lost her beloved brother—her only sibling—to cancer.  I told her how very sorry I was, asked a lot about her brother and their close relationship, then gave her long hugs until she finally stopped crying.  Cancer is a word, a dreaded thing, a terrible memory or experience, that brings people together.  There is a community among those who have had cancer themselves, and those who have helped a loved one through cancer.  While it’s a group you never want to join, the fellowship with people whose hearts, souls, and minds have been deepened by hardship, and the lessons we have all learned along the way, can be rich and life giving.

I need to close with something that gave me the best chuckle this week.  The friend involved shall remain unnamed, to protect her reputation as a woman of the highest integrity (which she is).  We were sitting chatting and I mentioned my fear of getting on an airplane and traveling a total of 14 hours to get to Madrid when I will have very few white blood cells to fight off all those germs on the planes.  This individual, who may or may not work in the medical field, said I needed the special medical masks that the doctors and nurses use when working with highly infectious patients.  That I must wear this type of mask on all my flights.  I remarked that this would be great, but that Steve didn’t have access to these kinds of masks, as he does not perform surgeries or work with highly infectious patients.  To which this individual replied, with her Bible sitting on the table inches from her nose, “no problem—I will steal them.”  She then proceeded to open her notebook, the one sitting on top of her Bible, and made a written note “steal special masks for Gabrielle.”  Later she prayed and asked God to please forgive her for stealing the masks for Gabrielle.  LOL.  There are laws and rules that exist to keep order in the streets and in the workplace, but sometimes, one must choose to bend the rules ever so slightly to achieve a greater good.  I’m so grateful my friends have my back—always.    

Thank you for coming alongside my family and me, yet again, as we fight my fourth recurrence of ovarian cancer.  I didn’t give you very long to “rest” from your prayers, cards, and so many other acts of kindness that let us know we are not alone.  Please grab those kneepads you wear when you garden, get down on your knees, and pray with us for healing, strength, and that as always, we will find so much joy in even the hardest journey. 

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”  Psalm 94:19


Our new miniature dwarf bunnies--Haystack (left) and Sunny!

Hiking Ebey's Landing on Whidbey Island with Daniel's girlfriend, Adrienne, and our good friends, Lynette and LaVonne!

Steve and me in the "Zone of Totality" in Camp Sherman, Oregon, courtesy of our dear cousins, Bob and Becky!

Poor Steve.  He was working and missed mango margaritas, guacamole, salsa, and chips on the deck with Renee, Daniel, Adrienne, and me!

Captain Gabrielle on the Fremont Cut!

Vietnamese dinner made by Daniel and Adrienne, who was visiting for three weeks from her doctoral program at Columbia in New York.  She just got her Master's and RN this summer and now, on to the doctorate!

Jericho had a sweet treat and sweet play date with Adrienne's cousin, Mialea.  After visiting the water park and having lunch, they giggled for ten minutes before falling asleep in the twin beds in my new "Grandkids' Jungle Bedroom," formerly, Renee's bedroom!

Jericho's Dad, Trae, and his sweetheart, Monica, got married this week!  Congratulations to the happy couple!  As a side note, the judge's last name was "Fair."  Who wouldn't want a judge named "Fair?!"

After the wedding, we gathered at Monica's parents' house for a delicious Mexican feast.  Her dad gave a toast about how we are all part of their big, loving family now.  He jokingly crowned Trae a "Blaxican," (black Mexican), and us "Wexicans," (white Mexicans)!  Jericho and we could not have a more loving extended family!

One last photo of the happy couple, Trae and Monica--Jericho's beloved Dada and Momma.  

Monday, July 24, 2017

All About Ned

          Steve here (thought I’d throw that in up front in case you think you’re getting the real deal with one of Gabrielle’s star-studded entries…just doin’ the full disclosure so you know what you’re getting). 
            I don’t know anybody named Ned.  As a matter of fact, until today, I had never really thought much about Ned.  It’s a non-descript sort of name, don’t you think?  My apologies to all the Neds out there, but it’s just that I haven’t run across too many members of the Cool Ned Club (CNC) till now (more about that later).  Ask me about Ned and three come to mind.  Ned Beatty…now there’s a Hollywood hunk if I ever saw one, a veritable heartthrob Brad Pitt look-alike.  Then there’s Ned Kelly, an infamous Australian bushranger who made a suit of armor and terrorized the Aussie authorities till he was captured and unceremoniously hung for his indiscretions.  And then there’s good old lovable Ned Flanders, of The Simpsons fame.  I don’t know much about that Ned, as I never had the Simpsons on when the kids were little, being too fearful that they’d grow up telling me “don’t have a cow, Man!” or “eat my shorts!” 
            And that about sums up the Neds I know, or know of.  Oh, except when Gabrielle’s friend Maribeth was dating this guy named Ed (now her husband), I kept referring to him as Ned in the hopes that when Gabrielle finally met him, she’d get his name wrong, but she was on to me.  I had succeeded once before with a friend from church, Tom Bush.  I kept saying “George Bush, George Bush” over and over again and sure enough, she fell for it.  We got invited to his house once and she extended a big warm handshake and said, “You must be George Bush!” 
            But back to Ned.  Gabrielle is now the newest, proudest, most vocal member of the Cool NED Club.  No, she doesn’t have pictures of Ned Beatty on her wall. Rather, in medical terms, NED stands for (wait for it!) NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE!!! Can’t get much better than that, can you?  We met with her oncologist today who came in with a big smile on her face and told us the good news.  The PET scan showed shrinkage of all the previously concerning areas to the point where they just weren’t there (mostly lymph nodes, but also metastases in the liver).  The PET scan looks for metabolically active areas of cancer and there was no uptake, nada, zilch!  Anywhere!  Gotta say it again, just for fun: NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE!  This is not the same as it being completely gone forever and ever, but it is great news, much better than we had hoped to get and we are over the moon happy.
            Afterward, Gabrielle had this massive smile on her face all day long.  We went on a walk, and everything was wonderful.  “Look at those wonderful flowers!”  “Look at that cute saying some kids wrote on the wall in chalk!” “Look at the pretty dog!”  She even told the lady at Central Market that she was having a great day and explained why.  And the checker was almost as delighted as Gabrielle (though I’m not sure the people behind her, waiting to buy their groceries were quite as thrilled to have to wait longer).  We went on a boat ride to celebrate and grabbed food before we got on board.  Comments throughout the day included: “Best shrimp roll ever!”  “Isn’t Mt. Rainier pretty today!”  “Oh, look at the boats in all the pretty colors!”  “Boy, isn’t the water temperature great!”  And there was even some praise for yours truly, “You don’t sweat too much for an old guy!”  Basically, this is a description of someone on Cloud 9, as the newest member of the Cool NED Club.  You can’t really blame her can you?  After all, she has been in chemo for a year and a half straight.  It’s time for a well-earned break from it, and we are all delighted.  She has been a long-suffering warrior in this battle, facing it with grace, faith, dignity and good humor, way better than I could muster, that’s for sure. 
            Thanks so much to all of you for your prayers, good wishes, support, cards, and simply for being there for us.  Gabrielle is so blessed to have such good friends in her life.  And now, she is on to a new task.  She’s starting to compile a list of all the foods she wants to eat now that it won’t all taste like metal.  First up: find a great Italian restaurant in Seattle.  Any suggestions, folks?  After that, her tastes increase in price.  I heard she was going to be looking into plane tickets soon for some trips she plans to take.  Oh, and she just told me that I should plan on working till I’m 88 to pay for it all.  Fair enough!  At this point, I’m feeling pretty good myself, so I have plenty of gas in the tank (at least for now).
            I will end by saying that when we got home from our Cloud 9 walk, Cloud 9 lunch, and Cloud 9 boat ride, we were greeted by an amazing tray of Ina Garten’s salted caramel brownies made by Daniel as a way of celebrating the good news!  Can’t wait to dig in!

            Yep, it’s a good day!

Daniel's Surprise for Gabrielle--her favorite salted caramel chocolate brownies!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

In a world full of struggles, the days of pure joy are God telling us to hang in there...for joy can be just around the corner

Dear family and friends,

Since I last wrote, I have experienced a tremendous amount of joy.  Overwhelming joy.  Like the joy one gets when standing on the top of Mt. Rainier after a long, arduous climb.  Or the joy of holding a newborn baby after months of discomfort and hours of hard labor.  Forget that I’ve remained in chemo.  Forget the upset stomach, shots in the belly, constipation, and fatigue.  All I will remember from the past month is the pure JOY of life and love.

The first joyous experience was a weeklong trip to Cannon Beach with Steve, Renee, and Daniel.  We have been taking the kids to Cannon Beach most every summer since they were babies.  But this trip was especially poignant, as it was our last trip as a family of four—taken just one week before Renee’s wedding!  I love the ocean, for it speaks to me of God’s power, presence, grandeur, and peace, and reminds me that like the continuous waves, one after another, His love for us endures forever.

We walked and napped on the beach, hiked forested trails with peek-a-boo ocean views, ate cheese, ice cream, and fudge in Tillamook, visited the Jacobsen Salt Company in Netarts Bay for sea salt caramels, ate the best oysters of our lives at Pacific Oyster in Bay City, discovered empty beaches full of sand dollars, starfish, and anemone-filled tide pools, and we ate ocean fresh halibut and chips and our weight in pepperoni slices from Pizza a Feta.  At night, we played mini golf, basketball, carpet ball, and our favorite new board game, Ticket to Ride.  I thanked God often during this week for the gift of our loving and close family.  Steve, Renee, and Daniel—your love is a priceless gift that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. 

Rested and refreshed from our time at the beach, we took deep breaths and entered the wild ride of wedding week!  We hosted the rehearsal dinner in our backyard, and a great time was had by all.  Then on Saturday, we laughed, cried, and smiled until we thought our cheeks would break as we watched the two most beautiful brides—Renee and Riley—commit their lives and love to one another for as long as they both shall live.  I was honored to read the Scripture at the wedding—words that were all about love in 1 John 4:7-12.  The wedding was beautiful, meaningful, and worshipful.  And then the party began at the Edmonds Yacht Club!  We ate delicious Mediterranean food, wrote “candy bar stories” about the girls in our table groups, listened to four of the most heartfelt toasts, ate three kinds of Simply Desserts cake, put temporary tattoos on our arms, and danced the night away, with a sparkler send-off for the brides.  Oh, and I guess I should mention that Daniel and I surprised the girls with our choreographed dance to the song, “Say a Little Prayer for You,” which received a standing ovation!  Steve and I remarked to one another a few days later, as we visited Mt. Rainier for a relaxing day in nature, that the wedding was one of the top five happiest days of our lives.  One we will never forget—and neither, of course, will Renee and Riley!

Before and after the wedding, I have been giving a lot of thought to what it means to love your spouse ‘til death do you part.  At Cannon Beach I finished a book called “When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi.  He was a neurosurgery chief resident who got lung cancer in his sixth year of residency and died just months after his first child was born.  In the book he included a quote from C.S. Lewis’ book, “A Grief Observed,” written after Lewis’ own wife died of cancer.  Here is the quote:  Bereavement is not the truncation of married love but one of its regular phases—like the honeymoon. What we want is to live our marriage well and faithfully through that phase too. If it hurts (and it certainly will) we accept the pains as a necessary part of this phase.”

Living with cancer, I think often about how married love for Steve and me (and for all of you reading this who plan to stay married for life) will one day mean entering the phase of bereavement.  Lewis accepted the tremendous pain of bereavement as the toll, or “tax” one has to pay for loving one’s spouse so well.  If you choose to skip the joy of loving your spouse so long and so well, you could avoid the tremendous pain that bereavement will one day bring.  But think what you would have missed along life’s way.  So much love.  So much joy.  Faithful friendship, romance, companionship, adventure.  The pain of bereavement will be terrible indeed, but Steve and I agree that it is definitely a price worth paying.

And while going through the years of grief and bereavement, how does one “live our marriage well and faithfully?”  How do we honor the relationship, the loss of which we now mourn?  I have been thinking about that and believe that we honor it best by first letting ourselves feel the pain deeply, to the very core of our being.  We must cry all those tears, feel the pit in one’s stomach, ache with loneliness as we recognize, like Lewis did, that “her absence is like the sky—it covers everything,” and that grief is like an amputation—you may learn to get around one day on crutches, or with a prosthetic leg, but you never again forget that you are no longer a biped.  But also, while feeling and expressing that sadness to the fullest, you pay your spouse the highest compliment--honoring the marriage the two of you had--by continuing on with the parts of life you enjoyed most together.  Head to the mountains and hike!  Jump in a lake on a hot day!  Travel!  Snorkel!  Explore tidepools!  Eat amazing food!  Try your hardest to beat everybody on game night!  Crack up at Frasier re-runs!  Go boating!  Pick blackberries and bake a pie!  Surround yourself with family and friends to celebrate life’s many milestone moments!  And never forget that you were one of the most blessed people on earth—to have loved, and been loved, so very deeply. 

In conclusion, please pray for us as we approach my PET scan on July 20.  We won’t get the results until July 24th, and will update you in our August blog post.  And please enjoy some joy and love-filled photos below!



Daniel and me on Oregon Coast!

Two dwarf bunnies we fell in love with and adopted in Seaside, Oregon!

Kids and me about to hike at Ecola State Park!

Jericho enjoying Edmonds Water Park!

Rehearsal Dinner in our backyard!

Steve and Renee practicing their walk down the aisle!

My new daughter-in-law--Riley Dudley!

Rehearsing at Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church!

Steve and me hiking at Mt. Rainier!
Renee and Riley at sunset in Edmonds!
Daniel and his girlfriend, Adrienne, at wedding reception!
The Dudleys!
Beautiful brides!
Brides and Jericho, the ring bearer--wearing his more comfy shirt and sandals after the wedding is over!

Daniel and me enjoying Yayoi Kusama exhibit at Seattle Art Museum!