Going to Israel, Part 1

You know, I have such a short memory that it occurs to me that I should be writing down my experiences as they occur. That way, I can remember this trip of a lifetime!

The Beginning

It all started when my friend Karen, also a lung cancer survivor, wrote on one of her medical updates that she was hoping to go to Israel early next year (2019). I replied to her message, saying I was looking forward to living vicariously through her pictures. (She is a great tour guide, even if you are not along with her! She posts pictures with lots of information accompanying them.)

My journey began when I got an email from Karen inviting me to actually join her for the trip. Upon reading the email, I yelled upstairs to my husband, “Hey! Do you care if I go to Israel?”

In a matter of moments, it was decided I could go! Wow! I never, ever dreamed I would ever go on a trip like this!! I am still not sure I believe it.

Oh Man! Where Do I Start?

Within just a few days, we had talked to our travel agency and paid the deposit. This is becoming real!

Since I have never been out of the country before, I have no passport. So, I called about getting an appointment so I could get that process started. Well. No. If you live in Texas, you need a special birth certificate … and that’s not the one I had, of course.

It takes up to a month to get one from the office in Austin, the only Vital Statistics office in Texas that has the birth certificate I need (long form). Okay. I have time.

But, the online ordering system crashes every time I try to place the order. I call their tech support. They can’t figure out what’s wrong. My case gets escalated.

I never heard back from Tech Support, but decided after a couple of days to try it and see if I could place the order. I was starting to get worried! Fortunately, even though Tech Support failed to inform me that they had corrected the problem (gee, thanks!), the problem was remedied and I was able to place the order.

I settled in to wait. God was on my side. I got my certificate in only a few weeks. Yes!!

Scans Good!

Karen and I bought trip insurance. Since we never know when or if our cancer is going to return with a vengeance, we felt it was prudent to do so. She’d recently had a scan showing that her tumor is stable; I was waiting on mine. I had it last week.

I admit I was holding my breath a little. I didn’t have any reason to think it wouldn’t show that my tumors are stable, the same as they have been for the last five years, but I still can’t quite believe this trip is really going to happen. I keep thinking something is going to cause it not to work out.

I was gratified to learn that my scan shows all is still well. Tumors are stable, no growth, no new tumors. Yes!! I won’t have another scan until the week after we return from our trip, so even if there is growth or spreading between now and then (I have no reason to expect there will be except that I am still expecting something to cause me not to get to go) I won’t know it.

Bible Study at the Passport Office

I’m not quite sure why, but I was nervous about going to the Passport Office. I guess that makes no sense. Well, really, there’s no “guess” to it. It makes no sense. But, I was nervous all the same.

A nice man came in, took my picture, and looked over all of the information I brought (driver’s license, new birth certificate, application), and we started talking about the fact that I am 65 years old and have never been out of the country before. He asked where I was going.

“Israel,” I said. He looked at me, probably noted the cross I wear around my neck, and said, “Your life will never the be same.” When he talked about walking where Jesus did, I got chills up and down my arms!

I’m sure that the Post Office probably wouldn’t condone our visiting for 30 minutes about God’s goodness and His mighty power and about how powerful it is to go to the place where Jesus was born, taught, died, and rose again. But, I left almost floating on air! It was as good as any church service would have been. And, I am even more excited than ever to make the trip.

Now, I just have to wait about 3 weeks for that passport to arrive. Then, I’ll really feel like this trip is going to happen!!

Palliative Care. What Is It and Should You Care?

Palliative care. Do you know what it is? If you don’t, then you are in the same boat as about 78% of people who answered a 2011 survey done by the American Cancer Society.2 In fact, only 8% of people said that they feel knowledgeable or very knowledgeable about what palliative care is. That’s a shame because palliative care can make your life a whole lot better if you are experiencing symptoms from your cancer or cancer treatment that are not being addressed by oncology.

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I’ve Got Joy, Down in my Heart!

I just read a draft of a blog post I wrote awhile back and the old children’s song we used to sing in church came to my mind, “There’s joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart, down in my heart, there’s joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, today!” I don’t know about you, but that little ditty is now going through my mind, over and over again. And, it is making me smile!! And, sing! Out loud! Loud! (My husband is going to wake up and wonder what in the world has happened to his wife!!)

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Dare We Say the “C” Word at the Same Time as Lung Cancer?

When I was diagnosed with lung cancer, the chances that a late-stage lung cancer patient would live five years was merely 4%. In fact, the American Lung Association, even today, gives the following survival rates:

“The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 55 percent for cases detected when the disease is still localized (within the lungs). However, only 16 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage. For distant tumors (spread to other organs) the five-year survival rate is only 4 percent.”1

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It’s about the Journey

I remember the days following my diagnosis as if they were yesterday. I was told I might not have very many more days here on earth, so I decided I better enjoy and make the most of the days I had. And, even though my initial prognosis was only four months, I somehow decided from the very beginning that I was going to try to bring hope to others with this disease.

Don’t let the diagnosis steal your joy

When my mom, husband and I showed up for my first chemo treatment, I wore a t-shirt that said, “It’s about the journey” and that’s the attitude I have tried to adopt. I asked my husband to video my first chemo treatment. I wanted to post it online to document the fact that a dire cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to be scary, doesn’t have to steal your joy.

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My Friend or Loved One Has Cancer. What Can I Do to Help?

Not so long ago, the question about what a friend could do for a loved one who had been diagnosed with cancer came up on a forum where I participate. I thought some of the responses from patients might help those who want to do something, but don’t have any ideas as to what to do.

A Bag Full of Goodies

When I was first diagnosed, my officemates took up a collection and bought a big bag that they filled up. They included beeswax lip balm, ginger candy (great for nausea), tissues, water, a small blanket, a journal and pen, a word search puzzle book, fuzzy socks, lotion, hand sanitizer and more. Additionally, they gave me a couple of pairs of comfortable lounging pajamas that I could wear when I got my treatments.

I still use the bag when I go out of town and often when I go for my treatments. I never use it that I do not think of my friends and feel grateful for them.

Another person posted that her sister gave her a diaper bag filled with many of the same kinds of things. Using a diaper bag is a great idea – they are usually pretty light-weight, have lots of nooks and crannies, can often be washed, and are roomy.

Gas Cards, Parking Passes, Restaurant Gift Cards

Cancer treatments often zap a person’s finances. It is sometimes difficult to afford the gasoline just to get to life-saving treatments. Several people on the forum mentioned how much they appreciated getting gas cards.

Similarly, many hospitals and clinics are located where you have to pay to park. At my facility, you have to use valet parking. It is $5 plus tip every time you go. If treatments are frequent, this adds up in a hurry. Giving the gift of parking passes is a huge relief for over-burdened pocketbooks.

Thinking about cooking after being in treatment all day is the last thing most cancer patients want to do. Having a gift card to a local restaurant would be a lovely way to end a long day.

Never Underestimate the Value of a Card or Phone Call

Unfortunately, cancer is often a lonely disease. Too often, it seems like people think it is contagious or something. So, just when you need it most, your support falls by the wayside. I think part of it is “out of sight out of mind” more than an overt action by friends and acquaintances but the result is the same.

It is uplifting to get an unexpected “I’m Thinking of You” card in the mail. Even better is a brief phone call, just to check in. If you’re like me and not much of a telephoner, a text message is also a way to get in touch. The point is not so much the vehicle used as it is to let your friend know you haven’t forgotten them.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer and was suffering from the terrible fatigue that accompanies many chemo treatments, I began sitting in my backyard photographing birds. I would then post the pictures on Facebook. One day, I received an unexpected package. A friend had sent me a bird identification book. It was such a thoughtful gift and meant the world to me.

Other Ideas

I will end with a list of more ideas that might be just perfect to show your friend or loved one how much you care:

  • Give a ride to treatment, the grocery store, or the park.
  • Bring over a meal. Even if the patient is too sick to eat, the family still needs nourishment.
  • A soft hat for those who have lost their hair may be appreciated.
  • A cozy blanket will surround the patient with love and warmth.
  • If they have a port, a port pillow can be a lifesaver.
  • Clean their house or mow their yard or do their laundry. These chores don’t go away just because someone has cancer.

What kinds of things have you gotten that meant the world to you? Sometimes, the smallest things, given from the heart, mean the most.

 

 

Deciding on Radiation Treatments

“Your tumor is growing. I am sorry, but I am pulling you out of your clinical trial,” my oncologist said. And, with that, my world came crashing down all around me.

I was in the trial for four years. I loved it. I felt comfortable in the trial. I didn’t want to leave it. But, it wasn’t my decision. And, honestly, it made no sense to remain in it if at least one tumor was no longer responding to the treatment.

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I had to retire. Now what do I do?

Way too many of us find that we can no longer continue to work at an 8-5 job after we are diagnosed with cancer. Besides the challenges of having to miss work all of the time to go to doctor’s appointments and to have regular scans and infusions, many of us simply no longer feel good enough to be able to go to work every day.

Retirement setbacks

For me, deciding to quit working was difficult. I didn’t have quite enough time in to receive my full social security benefits and I didn’t have quite enough time in to get my full teacher retirement benefits either. So, when I quit working, our income took a major hit.

No money meant a real lifestyle change. I know I am not the only person who has faced this particular challenge.

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