Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Jesus Help Me

Dear friends and family,

Have you ever felt so sick, or so in despair, that you couldn’t pray for yourself, not to mention for all the others on your prayer list?  Well that’s how these last two weeks have been for me.  “Jesus help me,” three little, but powerful words, were all I could utter on many days. 

I completed chemo number two of my fourth, three-week-in-a-row chemo cycle, a little over two weeks ago.  And the day after those drugs went into my veins, plunging my immune system to dangerously low levels, I became quite ill with some combination of viral and bacterial infections.  Sore throat, sinus infection, sneezing, coughing, fever, vomiting, laryngitis—you name it, I had it—with daily nosebleeds thrown in just for fun, as a result of my low platelets.  As someone who normally walks four miles a day, it was very difficult to be housebound, and indeed, glued to the couch with a plethora of tissues, tea, and medicines all around me, day after day, while I lay there with no energy at all.  Needless to say, they ended up cancelling the final chemo in cycle four, as it would have made me sicker and probably sent me to the hospital.

I found on many of these days that I was so sick and discouraged that I couldn’t find the words to pray for healing for myself or my other friends who are dealing with serious health issues.  So I would offer up those three words I could muster—“Jesus, help me,” followed by five more words before collapsing back into my cocoon of illness—“Jesus, help everybody else too!” 

The Bible says that when we are weak, or don’t know how to pray for ourselves or others, God does it for us.  In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

What a comfort it is to know that the God of the universe prays for me--and for you--when we can’t find the strength or the words.  And though many of us have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, it was a comfort to me throughout my most recent illness each time someone on Facebook told me they were praying for me.  I knew I was in good hands with my Facebook friends praying for me, my family praying for me, my Bible study friends praying for me, the God of the universe praying for me, and even my beloved Aunt Julianne, the last person on earth you’d think would pray—having finally capitulated to pray for me (and when she does, God responds with weather…thunder, lightening, torrents of rain)! I tell her He has to find some way to let her know how happy He is to hear from her!

I am slowly recovering, day-by-day, and was able to walk again yesterday for 45 minutes along the flat route at Alki Beach.  Oh how glorious it was to be outside, along the water, moving my body without feeling as though I was about to pass out!  My chemo break is to continue until July 3, when we will resume with the start of cycle five.  And one week of this blessed chemo break will be spent at Cannon Beach, Oregon, where I will be both physically and spiritually refreshed at the Cannon Beach Christian Conference Center family camp week.  After that week of walks, naps, pizza, games, and reading good books on the beach, I should be fit and ready to resume chemo, and five days after, to celebrate Renee and Riley’s wedding day! 

I want to close by encouraging those of you who hit bottom sometimes, either physically, spiritually, or emotionally, and who find it hard to pray during those times.  Maybe you are in this place right now.  Please try two things.  First, text me, or any combination of friends, and let us know you need prayer.  Next, just utter those three little words, “Jesus help me,” then rest and wait as the God who made you and loves you, as well as all the rest of us who love you, take it from there.  You will be in good hands.

Love,
Gabrielle

P.S.  Congratulations to Daniel, who completed his third year of medical school at the University of Washington last week!  One more year to go!  
Jericho loves baths with his sea animals, and can name every sea creature in the tub!

Nothing like resting in the sunshine on the back of our boat while Steve drives!

Look who's learning to ride a bike?!

We decorated cupcakes with sour gummy "J's" from Trader Joes and candy "3's" from Michaels to celebrate Jericho turning three at the end of May!

Jericho loves DJ and his girlfriend, Adrienne!

Riley gives Jericho his haircuts in our kitchen, then Jericho loves to vacuum up the mess!








Sunday, May 7, 2017

Happy May Thoughts

May 6, 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s a sunny Saturday here at Casa Shoreline.  Daniel is napping, Steve is at work, and I have a few quiet moments to get out a quick blog post.  What follows are a few random thoughts from the past week.  For those of you who are more linear, and like a thesis sentence, followed by defense of said thesis and a snappy conclusion, you better stop reading right now, for these are truly random bits of news and thoughts!

·   On Monday when I had my CA125 ovarian cancer tumor marker tested, it had dropped to 32!  So after just six treatments with the new double chemo regimen, the marker dropped from 166 to 32!  The normal range is 0 to 35.  I am still a bit stunned at this amazing news!  Thanks be to God, and thanks to all of you who pray for our family so faithfully.  I will continue with chemo for the time being, but a scan will be scheduled in the not too distant future to determine when I can take a much-needed chemo break!

·   I finally gave up blow-drying three or four wisps of hair each day and asked Riley to shave it all off!   We did this with Jericho present so that he wouldn’t be shocked when his Ga Ga suddenly appeared before him looking like a naked mole-rat.  But more importantly, one of Jericho’s favorite pastimes is vacuuming (“More dirt! More dirt!”), so I knew he would be filled with delight to vacuum up the last remnants of his Ga Ga’s brown hair.  And he was!

·   Within one day of shaving my head, I was told my parking fee was “on the house” at a frequently used parking garage (sweet), and two people mistook my gender (figures).  The first to err was a woman who looked right at me as I waited in line until she said, “Sir, I can help you now.”  Oops.  And the other was my soon to be five-year-old across the driveway neighbor, Marina.  When stopping to chat, she asked me what my name was and where I lived.  I said, “Marina, it’s me—Gabrielle—your neighbor.  I live right there.” (Picture my finger pointing at my house).  She replied, “Oh.  I thought you were a boy.”  Reasonable supposition.  Unfortunately, what did NOT happen within one day of shaving my head was that I was NOT offered two samples when Steve and I stopped by See’s Chocolates at Northgate.  I thought for sure the bald head would clinch that deal.  Rats!

·   Today, my two aunts showed up at our door for a shopping day at Alderwood Mall with Daniel and me.  One of my aunts had said “We need Daniel to help us pick out dresses to wear to Renee and Riley’s wedding,” so I had eagerly reserved this day on Daniel’s and my schedules accordingly.  As we chatted a bit before heading out, one aunt said, “I’m not buying anything today, I’m just along for the fun.”  Then the other aunt said, “I don’t need a dress either, but it will be fun to help you pick a dress, and I might need a t-shirt.”  To which I replied, “I already got my dress online.  So…wait a minute.  If you don’t need a dress (finger pointing at aunt number one), and you don’t need a dress (finger moving to aunt number two), and I’ve got my dress, then what are we all doing here?!  A laugh ensued and off we all went to Alderwood Mall anyway, where we bought Jericho his adorable ring bearer outfit and enjoyed a nice lunch out. 

·   Yesterday was such a precious day.  I didn’t mind one bit that it was finally sunny out while I was indoors all day, because I got to spend the day with my beautiful daughter, Renee, watching her try on wedding dresses!  Words can’t describe how it feels to a Mom to see her little baby girl all grown up and ready to marry the love of her life.  She looked incredible in every dress she tried on, but after visiting four bridal shops, we both knew without a doubt which dress was to be “her dress.”  Can you guess which one it was?  The most expensive one we tried, of course!  LOL.  Thank goodness I’m the one who pays the Visa bill each month to spare Steve from keeling over! 

·   For Cinco de Mayo yesterday, we had cinco cool guys from Daniel’s old 4th Hill Dorm at SPU reunited around our dining table, along with one new and fabulous girlfriend, for Daniel’s delicious beef barbacoa tacos, Elliot’s ten-avocado guacamole, and Kenneth’s hand-shaken, agave sweetened margaritas.  How great is that?!

·   Lastly, in my Bible study we have been studying the New Testament book of 1 John.  A couple of verses have stood out to me as our family has spent a lot of time, leading up to the wedding, discussing people who seem to love everyone, and those who hate, and people who accept those who are different from them, and those who are blinded by bigotry.  In this short book of the Bible we read “But whoever hates his brother is in darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.” 1 John 1:11  In an effort to have compassion on those who hate, and those who are bigots, I am trying to see them, as this verse describes, as being blinded by darkness.  Their beliefs and cruelty of words and/or deeds are things they have been wrongly taught, and which continue through an unrecognized ignorance that prevents understanding.  They are walking around in darkness, and I hope, one day, will find light.  If you read 1 John you will see numerous verses imploring us to love one another.  “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.”  1 John 4:7  It’s really as simple as that.  Thanks to all of you, and especially to Steve, Renee, and Daniel, who have taught me, and modeled for me, how to love, and extend light and grace toward all. 

Love,

Gabrielle

Daniel and I took Jericho to the Easter Eggstravaganza at our church.  A great time was had by all!

Steve, his Mom, Abby, and my Sister-in-Law, Tania, enjoyed a day together seeing the tulips!

Renee and me during our Girls' Weekend at Cannon Beach! Beach walks, long talks, pepperoni pizza, Scrabble, magazines, and lying in bed watching movies while eating the full fat popcorn.  Priceless!

Steve, Daniel, and I enjoyed a day-trip to Whidbey Island for our favorite hike at Ebey's Landing and the most delicious Penn Cove mussels at Christopher's Restaurant!

This is not the dress we picked.  Oh no.  It didn't cost enough for us to have picked it!  :-)




Tuesday, April 18, 2017

April Showers

Dear Family and Friends,

Well, I have some good news and some bad news, so I think I am supposed to ask you—which do you want first?  Since I can’t hear your answer, let’s just start with the good news!  I recently received the results of my CA125 ovarian cancer tumor marker test and my tumor marker dropped from 166 to 59 after just my first three chemotherapy treatments!  That's more than 100 points lower!  The two drugs I’m on must be doing something right, and we are praising God for this good news!

Now for the bad news.  Yesterday was chemo day number six, and the first news I got was that my blood counts were below the levels required to receive chemotherapy.  My neutrophils, those precious little white cells that fight infection, were at .7, and are supposed to be at 1.0 to be safe to get chemo.  A healthy person’s neutrophil range is 2 to 7.  And my platelets, the wonderful cells that allow your blood to clot if you get a cut or a nose bleed, were at 78, and to get chemo they should be at 80.  A healthy person’s platelets would be in the range of 150 to 400.  No wonder my nose has been bleeding all week!

Despite the lower than optimal counts, the doc still gave me the chemo, for she deemed the risk of me getting a life-threatening infection or bleeding to death as less than the risk of withholding the chemo and letting my cancer grow.  As soon as I’m done writing this Daniel will give me one of those nasty stomach shots (Neupogen), and I must continue them for a total of five days to force my bone marrow produce more blood cells.  Two weeks ago when I had these shots for five days I experienced terrible bone pain for that week, so you can imagine I’m not looking forward to how I will feel for the remainder of this week.  But onward I will go.  A dear friend just gave me a necklace with a silver charm that is etched with the word “Brave.”  Will see if I'm worthy to wear the necklace or not this week!

The other piece of bad news I received yesterday is that I am no longer a candidate for the drug Niraparib, which we had prayed the FDA would hurry up and approve, and which they did just approve.  Unfortunately the FDA only approved it for ovarian cancer patients who are “platinum sensitive.”  I thought I was platinum sensitive, as that was my original diagnosis—“platinum sensitive ovarian cancer.”  But since the carboplatin chemo I was on last year stopped working for me in December, as shown by dramatic disease progression, they now deem my cancer to be “non-platinum sensitive.”  I hadn’t realized this and had to shed a few tears yesterday over this disappointing news.  But now the tears have dried and I ask you to join us in praying for new treatments to be discovered, to pass their clinical trials, and to be available to me, and other women, in the future.  And please pray that God will keep me going on my current double chemo regimen until something new comes on the horizon.  Thank you!

When you have a chronic or life-threatening illness, you are extra susceptible to depression.  And why wouldn’t you be?  It IS depressing to feel unwell day after day and to have to think about and tend to one’s health all the time, not to mention if you also have to ponder and prepare for the possibility of a shortened lifespan.  Today I read a brief devotional on depression by a woman named Mary Southerland, and I want to share a part of it with you:

“Anything or anyone that makes me desperate for God can be counted as a blessing. Honestly, I hate that truth – but I also love it. God has used it to make my life a living illustration of the wonderful horrible certainty that His power shines best through the broken places. He is drawn to broken people. Broken people are why He came.”

When I can’t be in crowds or hug people I love because I have no immune system, when a drug that held promise to extend my life turns out to not be an option for me, when my bones are about to ache 24/7 for the next five days, and when I can’t plan a trip further out than a month because I don’t know how my health will be—these are the things that make me desperate for God.  And how timely for me, that just two days ago we celebrated Easter.  A day in which I am reminded that God is alive and with me always.  “Lord, please let your power shine through my broken places this week.  Thank you that you came for broken people, like me.  And please send your strength, hope, peace, and comfort to all my family and friends experiencing their own brokenness this week.  Amen.” 

Love,
Gabrielle
 
When you are feeling sad, dress up goofy and get your picture taken, then look at it several times a day.  Sure to produce a big smile!


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Each night I pause, remembering, some lovely, precious thing

Dear Family and Friends,

I hardly know where to start, as so much has happened since my last post.  But let’s just start by saying “Adios” to my hair!  Yep, after just one month of my new double chemo, my hair is falling out by the fistful and making a huge mess everywhere.  Thus, today at 5:20 PM, I have an appointment to have it shaved off.  Poor Jericho!  When he sees me on Saturday, he will wonder who the bald-headed woman is and where did his Ga Ga go?!

Yesterday I finished chemo number four, which almost didn’t happen.  My neutrophils, the part of your white blood cells that fight infection, were only 1.17, and the cutoff for it being too risky to get chemo is 1.0.  Yikes!  My doctor was out yesterday, but today she will call and tell me to start the neupogen shots in my stomach for four to five days in a row this week.  Neupogen is the drug that helps your bone marrow make more neutrophils.  The shots hurt and bruise your abdomen, but the worst part is that neupogen makes your bones ache as it stimulates your bone marrow to work harder to make blood cells.  This week will be challenging, but as I’ve shared so many times, even through the hardest parts of battling cancer, God seems to send an equivalent amount of joy to make my days not just survivable, but truly worth living.

For instance, our beautiful daughter, Renee, got engaged to her long-time love and best friend, Riley, a week ago!  We are overjoyed to welcome Riley to our family, and I am thanking God that He has kept me alive to attend my daughter’s wedding!  Do Mother-of-the-bride dresses have to have sequined sparkly things all over the fabric?  Wig or hat?  Heels or shoes I can dance all night with?  These are the musings in my head this week as my mind turns to wedding planning! 

In other news, the new cancer drug we have been waiting for, and that many of you have joined us in praying for, slated for fast track approval by the NIH by June 30, got approved EARLY—this very week!  It is designed exactly for my type of ovarian cancer, and while not able to cure the cancer, it is shown to extend life expectancy in most women who took part in the clinical trials.  We are praising God for this answer to prayer!  The oncologist won’t start me on Niraparib automatically, but will wait to see how my current drugs are working when I get my next scan on May 19th, and then will decide if it’s time to start the new drug or not.  But knowing it is approved and on the market, if/when I need it, is a tremendous blessing.

Another blessing has been that even after just four treatments, the pain in my stomach and back have decreased to barely noticeable most days!  I have been eating normal amounts of food again and have been able to walk three to four miles or work out on our elliptical machine about four days a week.  So thankful for these simple pleasures I took for granted for so many years. 

Other joys have included teaching Jericho to make our famous chocolate chip cookies, Daniel turning 27 on April 1 and finishing his arduous surgery clerkship the Friday before, and Steve fixing our leaky kitchen faucet.  Oh, and have you noticed—things are finally blooming (like our pink dogwood tree and tulips)!

My dear Uncle Roger, who just lost his own daughter, my cousin Andrea, to cancer, sent me a wonderful poem this week about the coexistence of joy and adversity, and how even through the worst of times, splashes of joy appear to make life so worth living.  Here is the poem, given to him by a friend in 1964, author unknown:

“The day will bring some lovely thing” –
I say it over each new dawn –
“Some lovely, precious thing to hold
against my heart when it is gone.”
And so I rise and go to meet
the day with wings upon my feet.

I come upon it unaware,
Some sudden beauty without name:
a snatch of song, a breath of pine,
a poem lit with golden flame;
high tangled bird notes keenly thinned,
like flying colors on the wind.

No day has ever failed me quite –
Before the grayest day is done,
I come upon some misty bloom
or a late line of setting sun.
Each night I pause, remembering,
some lovely, precious thing.

And I will add in closing, “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and what fills it resound; let the plains be joyful and all that is in them.  Then let all the trees of the forest rejoice before the Lord who comes, who comes to govern the earth, to govern the world with justice and the peoples with faithfulness.”  Psalm 96:11-13

Love,
Gabrielle Dudley

Daniel and girlfriend, Adrienne, serenading us with "City of Stars" from the movie, "La La Land!"

Steve and me on a rainy day walk at Alki, followed by our favorite pizza at Pegasus!

I could look at this photo all day.  Renee reading Thomas the Tank Engine books to Jericho ("Thomas, more Thomas")!

After doing all the adding of ingredients and stirring himself, Jericho squeezes the scooper, dropping his cookies onto the pan to bake!

My beautiful girls--Renee and Riley--at their engagement celebration at Lantern Brewery!

Daniel and me by the Montlake Cut on his birthday when we went with Steve to see the cherry blossom trees at the UW Campus!

My handsome, 27-year-old, April Fool's Day "baby"--never too old for his Winnie the Pooh birthday banner!