Monthly Archives: May 2015

A Day at the Hospital

I decided to do something a little different today when I went for my blood draw, doctor visit, and immunotherapy infusion. I thought it might be interesting to somebody if I documented my visit, from start to finish.

I didn’t get every picture I hoped to get. My oncologist didn’t see me today so I didn’t get a picture of him or his precious nurse (who will be leaving any day to have her baby). My favorite oncology nurses had other patients today so I also didn’t get any pictures of nurses in the infusion area. Next time, I hope!

We arrived at the hospital at 12:15. We were supposed to be at the hospital by 12:30. You check in at the main desk and wait to be called.

I didn’t look at my watch, but I am certain we didn’t wait more than 10 to 15 minutes before I was called back to have my blood drawn. At UTSW, the wait is rarely very long.

 

Accessing the Port

Right after I began treatments at UTSW, I got a port installed in my chest. You can read all about it at http://mybattlewithlungcancer.blogspot.com/2013/08/got-port.html. Unfortunately for me, I received all of my chemotherapy prior to going to UTSW through an IV in my arm instead of getting a port from the get-go. My veins are shot now. You can’t have poison infused into your body through those vessels and expect them to stay supple and healthy.

At any rate, with a port, getting blood is easy-peasy. It takes a special oncology nurse to access the port. Some are better at it than others! But, overall, there is very little pain involved and there is NO searching for a vein or sticking you again and again and again trying to get blood to flow.

At every visit, which in my case is every two weeks, a very comprehensive blood test is done. From three to five tube of blood are drawn and tested prior to visiting with the doctor. If your blood levels are not good, the oncologist may decide to put off chemo or might change the amount of chemo. In my case, there has never been a problem. I am often heard saying that if I didn’t have cancer, I would be as healthy as a horse.

There are several nurses who draw blood through a patient’s port, but I usually get Grace. We hit it off from the get-go. I love to see her every two weeks and I think the feeling is mutual.

 

We both have to wear masks while she accesses my port in order to reduce the chance of infection. I hate wearing the mask. My glasses always fog up while I’m trying to talk!

Below, you can see the needle that Grace is going to use to access my port. It is rather large!

It only takes a few minutes to get my port accessed and the blood drawn. Because I really like Grace, we often visit for a few more minutes before I return to the waiting room. You can see all of the tubing attached to the port. When I go for my infusion, it will be administered using this access point. Notice the pink circle on my sweater. Any guess what that is for?

Believe it or not, people were leaving the hospital with their ports still accessed. The pink dot is supposed to alert hospital personnel that my port is still accessed. I personally can’t imagine someone leaving the hospital with all of that tubing sticking out of their chest, but that’s just me. Chemo brain, perhaps, makes some people forget.

Back in the Lobby

I don’t know why, but this man felt special to me from the beginning. You see all kinds (including crazy kinds like me) at the hospital. This precious man seemed to lack confidence and had something wrong that caused him to shake violently. Another patient offered to open his lunch after he fumbled with it for a few minutes.

As it turns out, I ended up feeling so sorry for the man. It seems his wife is the one with cancer. I don’t know if she turned mean after she was diagnosed, if she was having a really awful day, or if she’s always been mean. She yelled at the man (loud enough that we could all hear it) for not sitting up straight and then for shaking while eating. Hello?! He obviously had a physical problem that caused the shaking. Now, it is possible that his shaking is worse when she is around. If she was MY wife, her being near would make me shake. Violently.

When they came to get her to take her back to see the doctor, the man still wanted to be supportive. He asked if she wanted him to come along. She rudely told him she didn’t care one way or the other. So, he went with them, trailing behind a bit. But, long before they would have reached the doctor’s office, he was back in the waiting room. I guess she decided she cared if he came after all and sent him back to us. I didn’t, but I just wanted to hug him.

On a happier note, we have had rain here in Dallas day after day after day. I’m not complaining because we needed the rain desperately. Last year, by the end of April, we had received only 3.93″ of rain. This year, we had been blessed with 14.67″ and so far, it has rained nearly every day during the month of May. It was exciting to see a break in the clouds while we were in the waiting room. We could see bluish skies and even a hint of sunshine!!

 

I am a people watcher and I tend to make up stories about the people I’m watching…. Well, this guy looked like a thug to me with his shorts down far below his butt. He also had jailhouse-appearing tattoos all over his arms and neck. I HATE seeing men with their pants worn far below their waists. I really think it is out of place at a cancer-treating facility.

I hate the way the guy dressed … and if I was a betting woman, I would guess he hasn’t been out of prison for all that long. I’ll give credit where credit is due, though. His children were very well behaved and he seemed to take an active part in their lives. So, I guess pants worn with the waistband closer to the knees than the hips is not a clear indicator of how a person acts.

I did get a kick out of watching him try to walk when they left. His shorts were so low that he couldn’t get a decent stride going. Sheesh. Who thinks that look is cute or macho or whatever? Not old fogie me.

People watching makes the time fly by! Soon, an aide comes to get us to take us to the doctor’s office.

Doctor’s Office

Things at UTSW move along like clockwork. I hear about others who go elsewhere that have to wait and wait and wait. Not so here. It is very, very rare that we don’t get in to see the doctor within an hour after the blood is drawn. The reason for the hour wait is that it takes an hour or so for the blood testing to be completed.

I was hoping I would see the doctor today so I could get a picture with him, but I guess he was too busy. I need to quit referring so many people to him! Maybe he’d have more time to see me!! (I am not honestly complaining. I am delighted that more and more of my friends are seeing him because I hope they have the same luck as I have with him treating them.)

On the other hand, I love Sharon. She is very thorough and we have a GREAT time laughing with one another. My visit usually lasts longer than it probably should because we enjoy the time together.

Sharon wasn’t quite sure what was going on until after our selfie was taken! You can tell by her beautiful smile that she’s a lot of fun. She’s also very smart and very dedicated. She’ll take as long as you need her to answering questions and addressing concerns.

My blood tests were fine. My CT scan that was done last week showed that my organs are “unremarkable” – a good thing!!! I have no swelling or lumps. The exam doesn’t take too long. Since all is well, the immunotherapy I receive can be ordered from the pharmacy. We return to the waiting room one last time.

Waiting Room Again!

 

In the lobby, there is a giant Chihuly sculpture. When I first saw it, I hated it. I have grown to love it over time. It is very intricate. What do you think? Love or hate or indifferent? Can anyone be indifferent to such a piece?

We now have to wait for a chemo room to become available. And, for the pharmacy to get the drugs ready.

Robert always comes with me to chemo. It is a long boring day, but he never complains. He doesn’t have to come, but it sure makes the day go more smoothly having him with me. I have read of so many couples that break up when one is diagnosed with cancer.  I am so happy that our marriage is probably stronger now than ever before. Which says a lot. In August, we celebrate 41 years of wedded bliss!

Infusion Room

It isn’t long before we’re escorted back one last time. This time, we are going to the infusion room. Where I received chemo, the infusion room was one giant room where everyone getting a treatment sat in chairs side-by-side. As much as I enjoy people watching, I always hated that room. It was such a big, cold, depressing room, just full of cancer patients receiving poison into their veins. Some people got sick, some slept, some visited … but it just seemed it should have been done in private.

When I switched to UTSW, I was DELIGHTED to find that we would have individual chemo rooms. Each room is a little different. The one we had today was relatively small … but certainly big enough to be comfortable. There is a television on the wall across from the infusion chair. The infusion chair itself is very comfortable and I usually request a heated blanket when we get to the room. I love those heated blankets!

 

The chairs for the visitors are not nearly as comfortable as the ones provided for the patient!

An aide always brings us to the infusion room, retrieves the warm blanket and any requested snacks. I am not sure what this aide’s name is, but he is my favorite in the chemo area. He is always so cheerful and he’s a hard worker. He wasn’t the person who brought me to the infusion room today, but he walked by and saw me in the chair. “Hello, Mrs. Fernandez,” he said. I asked him if he’d come take a selfie with me and he obliged!

This is the best picture I could get of how the port looks when it has been accessed and readied for an infusion. In the second picture, you can see how all of the tubing is attached. I think I have already said it, but the port makes getting a treatment much, much easier.

 

My infusion takes one hour. When I was getting chemo, an infusion could take from two to six hours. I like the one hour treatment much more!! So, my treatment began at just minutes after   3  PM. And I become a clock watcher!

YES!!! It is 4:00 … the treatment should be over! Most of the drug has dripped into my blood stream. Where is the nurse to disconnect me??

 

 

What’s going on? Where’s the nurse? It is now 4:15 and here we still sit! Typically, the nurse appears immediately when the hour of infusion ends. Something must have taken my nurse’s attention today because she was late getting to our room.

It isn’t too long, though, before she comes in and prepares me for departure. She has to flush the port with herapin, disconnect the port access, give us a parking pass, and send us on our way. We are soon outside and waiting on the valet to bring our car.

You can’t really tell from the photos, but the campus at UTSW is amazingly beautiful and serene. One of these days, I am going to take my good camera and spend an afternoon exploring the grounds.

 

Rewards

Because chemo day is a long day, we nearly always eat a leisurely breakfast before we go and then treat ourselves to a nice dinner afterwards.
Tonight’s treat: Dunston’s Steak House.
As we drove into the parking lot at the restaurant, we passed this gorgeous cactus. I wonder if it is because of all of the rain we’ve had that it is blooming like it is? It was so beautiful that I had to stop and take a few pictures before going in to eat.

 

 

It smells divine sitting near the wood-burning grills!

Steaks were cooked to perfection and the baked potato was delicious. A perfect ending to the day!

Pictures from the Backyard

When I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I had to quit doing my most favorite thing in the world – playing agility with my dogs. I simply didn’t have the strength or the stamina for it. It broke my heart because when I quit doing agility, I also quit hearing much from the people I thought were my friends. Unfortunately, there are lots of things about cancer than cause pain besides tumors. Losing your friends, or those you considered friends but who turned out to be acquaintances, is one of the hardest. I’ve been fighting this battle for over 2-1/2 years and it still hurts.

But, that’s not what this post is about. I quit doing agility, but I was determined to have something to do to occupy my thoughts. I refuse to dwell on the fact that I have lung cancer. I spent quite a lot of time in my backyard. It is a peaceful, happy place. I love it back there. I bought lots of pretty flowers and hung bird feeders.

The flowers brought color to my world and the birds that visited my feeders brought joy. I didn’t have any energy, but it didn’t take any to sit in the backyard and enjoy what God has created. In fact, spending time relaxing in all of the beauty rejuvenated me.

Pretty soon, I decided I wanted to capture the memories so I brought the camera out. With the help of an excellent photographer friend of mine from Midland, I practiced using the various settings on the camera. What I haven’t learned – then or now – is how to use any of the software that allows you to REALLY enhance your work. I know I need to learn, but I always put it off. Chemo brain dissuades me from doing many things that require a great deal of learning and concentration.

I seem to be getting distracted a lot tonight. Tonight’s post is titled “Pictures from the Backyard” and that’s what I want to talk about!

Throughout my journey, I have snapped a lot of shots in my backyard. I am a prolific picture taker and I am not usually inclined to get rid of any of them! I have thousands and thousands of pictures. Don’t start groaning! I don’t intend to post them all here!

But, I took some today that I want to share because I enjoyed taking them and I enjoyed seeing them when I loaded them onto the computer. I hope you might enjoy them as well.

Abstract! I did this by spinning the lens while the shutter was open. I like it!

 

This is the flower that is in the center of the spin art above. It is a Dahlia.
This bud will ultimately open into a bloom like the one above. Beautiful!

 

 

Canna and Asiatic lilies — bring joy to my life!
Close-up of the canna.
Asiatic lilies. They are gorgeous, but they really don’t last very long. I enjoy them while they are blooming!

 

I take lots of pictures of the little lemons. They fascinate me!

 

 

A butterfly weed

 

Another butterfly weed
A close-up of the bud above. I love all of the teeny flowers!

 

A third butterfly weed. The three butterfly weed plants are supposed to attract monarch butterflies and give them a place to lay their eggs. Unfortunately, I have seen not one butterfly on the plants. Lots of flies and bees though. You’ll see those later 🙂

 

 

A beautiful  dianthus bloom. Right after a rainstorm.

 

More dianthus. I love these little flowers that just keep on keeping on.

 

 

This picture and the one above are lemon tree blooms. You have missed a true blessing if you have never gotten to smell lemon tree blooms. They smell so good! And, they’re beautiful, I think.
Close-up of a marigold. My marigolds have not enjoyed the torrential rains we have had lately.

 

 

 

Cool Shots

 

I love playing with the camera. The following shots are me playing. Just practicing and playing!

 

 

A raindrop about to fall)

 

Flies and bees love this flower.

 

Flies? Bees? Very lovely green color, whatever they are!

 

This flower is supposed to attract butterflies and bees. Instead, there are flies, flies, and more flies!

 

 

 

Same for these flowers. They are supposed to attract butterflies/hummers. Instead, I get flies and whatever the green bug is!

 

 

 

 

 

This butterfly just happened to fly up when I was outside taking pictures. Think he is pretty (in a dull sort of way) so I followed him from plant to plant taking his picture!

 

 

 

 

 

Farmer Donna

For years, Robert has asked me to have a vegetable garden. Every time he suggested it, I refused to even consider it. I was totally opposed to such an idea. Until this year.

Perhaps it has to do with life. I am living and it is fun to see other things live? Too philosophical? Well, I don’t know why I suddenly decided this year that it would be a great idea to grow some fruits and vegetables, but that’s what I decided.

Meyer Lemon Tree

First, I bought a lemon tree! Yep, a lemon tree. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade and all of that 🙂  Seriously, I love lemons – lemon in water, lemon in shrimp scampi, lemon in cake!!! And, I was jealous when I would see friends with their homegrown lemons in years past, so I just had to buy myself a lemon tree.

This picture is from when I first got the tree when it was full of blooms instead of fruit … I’ll have to get another one day soon. At any rate, the tree is now just full of little fruit and it also has started flowering again. And, if you have never smelled lemon tree blossoms,  you are missing something really special. They smell heavenly. I am excited to see more blossoms! Who knew a tree would try to fruit more than once in a season?

Aren’t the little fruits just as cute as can be? As they get larger and larger, I wonder if the thin little branch will be able to support the weight? Lemons I buy at the store are pretty heavy! That branch is really thin!

The blooms are not only fragrant, they are gorgeous! I could look at these blooms forever. Butterflies like them, too. So far, I can think of lots of reasons why everyone should have a lemon tree (even if you don’t like them, putting them in your disposal will make your house smell good!) and none for why you shouldn’t. Possibly the fact that they are very cold sensitive and will have to be brought into the house in the winter is a negative. Not for me, but maybe for others…

Here in Dallas, we don’t usually get a lot of rain, but let me tell you, this year we have had rain after rain after rain! And some fairly violent weather nearby with hail and tornadoes. I like rain. I do not like hail or tornadoes. Tornadoes scare me and hail just makes me mad. Anyway, I loved the water dripping off of my little lemon here. Isn’t it fascinating that the lemon already has a rough texture like store-bought lemons do? Am I too easily entertained?

I took this picture just to show how the tree has fruit on it and new blooms too. I think that is so cool!

Well, from the lemon tree came the herb garden!

Herb Garden

I don’t really like to cook, but since I took a BIG pay cut when I quit working, I have been trying to do more of it. So, I got the brilliant idea that fresh herbs would be a wonderful idea. I went to a herb garden class at our local nursery where I bought this really neat three-level pot. I fell in love with it!

I bought quite a variety of herbs: parsley (did you know that parsley is really, really good for you?), oregano, chives (garlic and onion), chocolate mint, peppermint, lemon balm (supposed to keep mosquitoes away, but it is not working for me!), rosemary, sage, thyme, lavender and I can’t remember what else. I have the tags and I look at them on occasion to remind myself what herbs I have growing!! It is obvious from the ones I remember I have that I like Italian food! 🙂

If one three-level pot is good, two will be better, right? That’s what I decided. It was buying the second pot that started me on fruit and vegetables. I decided that a tomato plant in the top pot was a great idea. And it was!

I chose a compact patio tomato to plant in the top pot of the planter. The fruit is supposed to be dwarf, between the size of a cherry tomato and a regular tomato. I think you can see that the plant is growing nicely. That is a 12 inch wooden stake next to it, trying to offer it a bit of support.

Here is what that little tomato plant has on it now:

It has had this fruit for a month or two. It isn’t ripening. I don’t know why. If anyone reads this and knows how long it takes for tomatoes to ripen on the vine, please let me know in the comments!!! I am the world’s least patient person so this “farming” is a real test for me!!! I go outside every single day and look at every plant, every single plant! And boy! Do I get excited when I find a surprise!

Fruits and Veggies

Well, it was so much fun to have one tomato plant, that I decided I needed more. I thought we would enjoy the dwarf tomatoes in salad, but I also wanted fruit that could be sliced for hamburgers and sandwiches.

And, yeah, I decided I would also like to have strawberries, even though I am not a big strawberry lover. Don’t ask me why I made some of the decisions I made. I can’t explain it to myself, much less to you!

Robert is good about indulging my “needs,” so off we went to Lowe’s, where we purchased not one, but three new tomato plants and a lovely strawberry plant. (I previously planted strawberry roots … 30 of them. Not a single one ever made into a plant. Again, if anyone has hints on that, I would love to hear them. The roots were guaranteed to grow, but not one did! I obviously did something very, very wrong!)

I also bought a Patio Picker container. I put all four plants (3 tomatoes, one strawberry) in the same 24X20″ container. Yeah, I know, that was a mistake! Those tiny little tomato plants have EXPLODED in size!!!

Well, it probably comes as no surprise that one Patio Picker container and tomatoes would not enough. If we are going to be “farmers,” we need to grow some veggies. Right? Right!

Let’s see. What would be good this summer? Well, I don’t much like watermelon, but I have read it is really, REALLY good for you. Better have some watermelon. And some cantaloupe. Another fruit I don’t like, but everyone else I know does, especially my mom and Robert. Maybe I’ll learn to like it better. Or not.

I like okra and so does Robert. So, let’s get some okra. Zucchini and squash are awesome on the grill or in salads. Better have some of those. And cucumber. Yum! It is another vegetable that is just packed with goodness for you.

Sigh!!! I wish I had a bigger place for stuff because I wouldn’t mind trying some beans, too. But, for now we have all our space can handle. Except that I talked myself into a red bell pepper while I was buying the other plants.

Here are my two Patio Pickers side by side right after they were planted on April 28. As an aside, I am not using the pots the way you are instructed. You are supposed to cover the tops with plastic to keep the plants from being over-watered and to keep water from evaporating so quickly. That seemed like a hassle to me so I just put mulch on top. So far, even with the torrential rains we have had day after day after day, the plants are doing AWESOME.

The picture above show what a couple of weeks can mean!!! Wow! Even I forgot that it had only been a few weeks since I planted my Patio Pickers!!!  Look at the size of the tomato plants now!! One of them is coming out of its wire frame already and another will be in another few days. The third one, a more compact variety, surprised me yesterday. It already has some decent-sized fruit on it!!!

The tomatoes are not the only thing that is exploding in size!!! I was gone last weekend because I was attending the fabulous LUNGevity National HOPE Summit in Washington, DC. I was only gone from Friday afternoon until Sunday night, but I was astonished at how big my vegetables in the Patio Pickers had grown. After another week of growth, they’re even bigger now!

In the Patio Picker above are some yellow zucchini, cantaloupe (I think), red bell pepper, okra, and two plants that don’t have tags on them so I won’t know what they are until they produce!! It’s a mystery until then! Don’t you love it? (And yes! These plants are going to be WAY too crowded. But, I think it might be too late to repot them. Does anyone know?)

Well, until today, I didn’t think any of the vegetable plants were actually producing. But, I was wrong!

Do you see it? My teeny tiny yellow zucchini!!! There are actually three that I can see on the plant so far. They’re small, but they’re there!!! I was as excited as could be when I found them. I have taken pictures of them with my tablet and then again with my better camera! I will probably take pictures of them now every single day until I pick them. Anybody’s guess when that will be! I have no clue!

Some of the other plants in the Patio Picker look like they’ll be producing soon, too. Just for fun, here are a few more pictures I took of the plants in the Patio Picker (should I just call it a PP? … much easier … though some children might laugh if you were reading this out loud).

No clue what this is going to be, but I’m going to have something soon! Hopefully, I will be able to identify it fairly quickly once I can see a vegetable. Or maybe someone reading this knows?

I believe this is the cantaloupe. And, I’m not actually sure if a fruit will appear where I have pictured or not. Time will tell. I am expecting SOMETHING to appear pretty soon, somewhere on the plant!

My baby zucchini again. I can’t wait to watch it grow!

These are going to be red bell peppers. I am really anxious to see they grow too! Well, let’s just be honest! There isn’t a single vegetable or fruit here that I’m not anxious to see grow!

The Planted Garden

Well, when I do something, I usually don’t do it in a small fashion. Whatever hobby I have, I do it with full engagement. That’s not a good thing most of the time. But, it is what it is.

So, I was thinking that I wanted to put some vegetables into the ground. But, our yard is really not set up for a garden. It is three levels. The first level, near the house, is small and very sloped. There is an old pond that has a leaking liner where I could probably toss some dirt … and probably will next year! But otherwise, there really aren’t many places for flowers or gardens, except in containers … and I have the fence lined with those!

The second level is the most plausible level to become home to a garden. We rarely go down there. The dogs run the fence line, barking at people who walk on the nature trail, and Cotton digs lots of landmines there. On rare occasions, I set up some jumps and practice a little agility. But, for the most part, it is underused, even unused. It is currently home to some grass and some weeds. No flowers, except the ones on the weeds. Digging out a garden plot on the second level was a little too industrious for me this year.

The third level of our yard is not fenced and is next to the nature trail. Unless I want to share my vegetables with everybody who walks by, I think the third level is out. Unless we put up some sort of fence with a locking gate… The second level still seems most plausible. Next year.

For this year, the only space I could think of was a weed-ridden little plot next to the swimming pool. It had a tree in it when we moved here, but Robert cut it down right away. Who plants a tree right next to a swimming pool? Hello? Roots under the pool? We didn’t know much about swimming pools when we moved here, but we knew you don’t want tree roots pushing against it or growing up under it.

The little plot has been home to weeds for the entire time we’ve lived here. You can’t see them because the land is two or three feet below where the pool deck is. In other words, in order to get to it, you have to climb down to get to it … and yeah, climb back up when you want to get out of there.

Well, it isn’t the most convenient spot on earth, to be sure, but it is a place where I can have my veggies. There is plenty of sun. Nothing should bother the plants (except maybe bugs).

I spent a couple of hard days digging out the weeds, adding soil conditioners, and sprinkling in fertilizer. I patted myself on the back more than once while I was out there sweating and hurting. I’m a Stage IV lung cancer survivor and I can dig this garden with the best of them! Yeah! And even though I am no spring chicken any more, I can also climb in and out of this space! I have to crawl and then stand up when I get out of it, but that’s beside the point entirely!

Below are pictures of the little garden right after I got it planted and mulched. I’m hoping the mulch will limit the amount of weeding I have to do. And, also, it should help keep the ground moist when it is no longer raining every single solitary day like it is now.

The pipes are either just hanging around down there or are taking the overflow from the pool out to the area between our houses. The pool is saltwater so I hope the water from it doesn’t end up in my garden plot. I don’t think any of the plants will be fans of saltwater. And, as an aside, neither is the metal fence.

When I planted the little garden space, I actually tried to give the vegetables a reasonable amount of space. I think I knew, even as I was planting them, that I was going to be crowding the ones in the Patio Pickers.

Because it is a pain to get up and down out of the space, the plants in the ground do not get nearly as much scrutiny or attention as the ones in the Patio Pickers. Today was the first day in awhile that I have been down in the garden to really take a look at them.

They are not growing as quickly as the ones in the Patio Pickers. But, they ARE growing. Some of the plants were really tiny when I planted them. Below are some pictures I took today:

Well, I guess I didn’t get a picture of the whole garden. I’ll have to go do that. Because it is fun to see how it grows! So far, there is no fruit or vegetables on any of the plants that are in the ground. The fact that the container plants are doing so much better is a great advertisement for Patio Pickers!!!! I should set it up an affiliate link so I can make a commission for bragging on them like I am!! 🙂

I got industrious. I went outside with the tablet to try to get a picture of the garden. I can’t get it all in one photo, so I decided to take a video! So, you get pictures and commentary!

I am really having a lot of fun with this right now! I should have fruits and vegetables to share soon unless something awful happens and kills them all. Since I have no idea what I am doing, anything is possible, but I’m going to hope that all goes well with it and that my biggest problem is going to be getting rid of the produce!

Do any of you garden? Anyone have tips or favorite web sites for me?

Why the Inequities?

You know, I try to stay really upbeat most of the time. I am fairly successful at it. Like Dann Wonser says, most trials and tribulations we lung cancer survivors face are very tiny, while cancer is VERY BIG. (http://www.dannwonser.com/blog/a-little-disaster-can-be-a-good-thing/5/4/2015 … you really HAVE to read this, it is hilarious!). I think many cancer patients agree that we no longer sweat the small stuff … and most everything we face in our lives besides cancer is small stuff.

But, I came across the following article today: http://www.ksat.com/content/pns/ksat/news/2015/05/08/questions-raised-over-funding-for-cancer-research.html. It distressed me a lot. As did most of the reaction I received after I posted on Facebook about it.

The article was written by Myra Arthur, an anchor/reporter for ABC affiliate KSAT-12, a San Antonio, TX affiliate. Ms Arthur questions, as do I, why funding for lung cancer research trails so far behind that of other cancers, especially breast and prostate. Her advocacy makes me wonder if somehow her life, too, hasn’t been touched by lung cancer. Most people ignore it otherwise. That’s just the sad fact.

Facts – Ho Hum … But Necessary!

Here are some facts about cancer – some good, some not so good:

1. The two largest federal agencies that fund cancer research are the National Cancer Institute and the Department of Defense. These two agencies funded breast cancer research at $802 million in 2014. Prostate cancer research received $334 million.

2. Breast cancer is expected to be found in 234,190 men and women in 2015. (That’s right! Men can get breast cancer, too!) During 2015, 40,730 people are expected to die from breast cancer. That’s too many, for sure, but basically, if you get breast cancer, you have very good odds of surviving at least five years. These odds have increased exponentially over the past few years as more and more attention has been given to the disease.

A whopping 29% of all cancers diagnosed will be breast cancer. About 15% of all cancer deaths result from breast cancer.

3. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men. It nearly seems like every man is going to be diagnosed with it if they live to be old enough. I have gotten so cavalier about it … “oh! prostate cancer. minor inconvenience. treat it. be done.” I wasn’t quite so sure of myself when one of our very best friends died from it only months after diagnosis. (I think he waited REALLY long before seeking treatment and it had metastasized throughout his body.)

So, the facts for prostate cancer are: 220,800 men are expected to be diagnosed with prostate cancer during 2015. Prostate cancer will account for 9% of all cancer-related deaths this year.

4. And then there’s lung cancer. Research funding from the two major federal agencies for this disease during 2014 was a whopping $265.6 million. Let’s remember. Breast cancer got $802 million and prostate got $334 million. Hello????

During 2015, it is estimated that 115,610 men and 105,590 women (total of 221,200) will be diagnosed with lung cancer. Most of these diagnoses will be late stage because lung cancer typically doesn’t make itself known until it has metastasized. It is somewhat treatable if found in early stages, but in late stages, the prognosis is downright bad.

Lung cancer is expected to claim the lives of 86,380 men (that’s 28% of all cancer deaths) and 71,660 women (26% of all cancer deaths) for a total of 158,040 people succumbing to lung cancer in 2015. An awful lot of families are losing their children, their moms and dads, and/or their grandparents to this insidious disease.

So, the likelihood that you’ll get breast cancer if you are a woman or prostate cancer if you are a man is somewhat greater than that you’ll get lung cancer. Pray that you get one of these cancers and not lung cancer. Because, if you get breast cancer, you have an 89% chance of surviving at least five years. Prostate cancer has even better odds. Over 99% of prostate cancer survivors will still be living life in five years.

But, if you are one of the unlucky ones who gets the lung cancer diagnosis, you have much worse odds. Let’s just take a quote right out of Cancer Facts and Figures 2015, a publication of the American Cancer Society:

 The 1- and 5-year relative survival rates for lung cancer are 44% and 17%, respectively. Only 15% of lung cancers are diagnosed at a localized stage, for which the 5-year survival rate is 54%. More than half (57%) are diagnosed at a distant stage, for which the 1- and 5-year survival is 26% and 4%, respectively. The 5-year survival for small cell lung cancer (6%) is lower than that for non-small cell (21%). 

(http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@editorial/documents/document/acspc-044552.pdf)

Wow.

Outrage

So, does this make any sense to you? Because it sure does not make sense to me.  It breaks my heart at the same time as it totally infuriates me.

Did you know that ONE in FIFTEEN will be diagnosed with lung cancer? Those are some pretty scary stats. Most of us have more than 15 people in our circle of family and friends. That means you are very likely to be directly affected by lung cancer. Either because a loved one is diagnosed or because you, yourself, get that news someday. When the word comes that you or your loved one has lung cancer, I wonder if you are going to wish more had been spent on lung cancer research? Because right now, the odds that you will live even one year after lung cancer is found in your body are very, very slim.

There is no stigma associated with getting breast cancer or prostate cancer or colon cancer or, I suppose, any other cancer. But, people, in general, seem to think that people who get lung cancer deserve it. After all, isn’t lung cancer the disease of smokers? People know they are testing fate when they pick up those cigarettes. So, let them just suffer the consequences of their actions, right?

Well … first of all … NO ONE and I do mean NO ONE deserves to get cancer of any kind. It is a fact of life, I guess, that most all of us will be impacted in some way by cancer if we live long enough, but none of us deserve to get it.

Cancer is not a fun disease to treat. People are sick, sick, sick. And often lose their hair. And all of their energy. And their memory.

And, it is certainly not a cheap disease to treat. One … ONE chemo treatment that I had cost over $34,000 and that was after a $22,000 grant was applied. I had those treatments every three weeks for six or seven months. And, that was just the cost of the drug. It didn’t include the doctor, blood tests, or facility usage. Cancer can wipe a family out financially in no time.

But, back to the stigma associated with lung cancer. Did you know that 60 to 65% of all lung cancer survivors (because you become a survivor from the moment you are diagnosed) either have never smoked or are former smokers? In my case, I had broken the addiction five years previously. My cancer is one that both smokers and non-smokers get so there is no clear evidence that my smoking caused my cancer. It is also the same kind of cancer as my dad died from back in the 1970s.

I attended a LUNGevity HOPE Summit in Washington, DC last week. I was amazed at the 150 survivors at that event. One girl was only 20. Her late-stage lung cancer was found (finally) when she was 19. Another beauty was 24. She lost part of a lung to lung cancer. Heart-breaking. Neither girl smoked. Both were gorgeous. Both were physically fit. Both girls had such a difficult time convincing their doctors that there was something more than asthma going on that they didn’t have their cancer discovered until it had metastasized.

Even doctors have an errorenous  image in their heads as to what a lung cancer patient looks like. So, while they are lollygagging along treating symptoms and never even entertaining the idea that there might be something more serious going on, the cancer cells are spreading all over the body.

I met men and women who bicycle hundreds of miles a weekend. Coaches. Vegetarians. Physically fit, well-nourished, non-smokers. Lots of them. Lung cancer survivors, one and all. I don’t know that an average age of attendees was calculated, but I would guess it was around 45, maybe less.

All of this is to say that your mind’s image of a lung cancer patient is probably wrong. He or she is probably as physically fit as you are. And, s/he is probably not as old as you imagined. And definitely likely does not have tobacco stained fingers that are still shakily raising that nasty cigarette up to be smoked. He or she might be your sister or your brother, your mom or your dad, or your best friend. Or you.

The stigma that just won’t go away STINKS. Worse than cigarettes and we all know how bad they stink. And, the stigma is far more deadly than cigarettes.

It is causing doctors to misdiagnose or delay diagnosis until the odds of survival have decreased to almost nothing. It is causing the general public to think it is fine to underfund lung cancer research. It is causing a lot of people to die deaths they do not deserve.

The Good News

The news is BAD when we look at funding, awareness, and the number of people being diagnosed and dying from lung cancer. There really are not a l ot of optimistic things to say about those things.

But, in spite of the limited funding, our scientists and oncologists are making significant progress. This is an exciting time in the research field. They are on the brink of making some discoveries that could change some of those dire statistics.

At the HOPE Summit, we heard from some of the up and coming talents in the world of lung cancer research and they were inspiring. We have targeted therapy drugs coming. Immunotherapies. Perhaps even some chemotherapies that will be less toxic. I can’t imagine the inroads that would or could be made if only lung cancer was given a significant amount of funding like the other two major cancers get.

Tehre are a few groups out there working hard to raise awareness. As awareness is raised, perhaps more big corporations and well-known names will jump on the bandwagon. CVC has recently begun a campaign to raise money for lung cancer. It is the first corporation I know of to begin backing such a campaign. As awareness is raised, there will be more money for research. But, there will also be more lives saved because the image of the old smoker with lung cancer will be replaced by the young vital nonsmoker with lung cancer. People will begin to realize that they are not immune to it just because they never smoked. And then we will have real progress. It is a day I hope I live to see and I have developed a passion for doing what I can to help that day come sooner rather than later.

Won’t you help me?

I just came across another article that I want to share here. It was written by Jamie Gorenberg who wrote for “Desperate Housewives” after her mom, a person who quit smoking 40 years earlier, was diagnosed with lung cancer. I want to share it with anyone who happens to read my blog because she says, more eloquently than I, how it feels to have someone you love diagnosed with lung cancer.

http://www.standup2cancer.org/article_archive/view/lung_cancer_coming_soon_to_a_non_smoker_near_you

 

Flower of Hope

I never bothered with flowers or anything when I worked – there wasn’t time. I was way too involved in agility and other activities to want to mess with flowers. I liked what other people had, but they were just too much work for me.

But, when I retired, I had more time. A lot more time. I needed something to fill my days with joy so I started filling pots with flowers. And, I found that those flowers brought me great joy. I would get up early and go sit out in the backyard and enjoy the gorgeous flowers and the serenity of it all. I had bird feeders spread around too. I also enjoy watching the birds and butterflies! Not the mosquitoes. I can definitely do without the mosquitoes.

Rosemary, marigolds, and lemon balm are all supposed to dissuade mosquitoes from making a home near you. Doesn’t work. I have tons of rosemary (I love it), pots of marigolds, and a thriving lemon balm and I also have giant-sized, hungry mosquitoes.

But, mosquitoes are not the topic of this posting. My flower of hope is.

The red verbena is my flower of hope. And there is a good reason for that.

Last year, I bought a beautiful hanging basket that had trailing petunias and verbena in it. I loved it, but it was not cooperative with me. It did not thrive like most of my plants do. When I left to go to New Mexico with my son, it gave up the ghost entirely.

I took the pot down and put it aside. It was a pretty pot so I thought I might replant it. I didn’t empty out the dead plants, but the pot was totally ignored. I did not water it or pay attention to it. Until, one day I looked at it, and lo and behold, there was a green plant and there were blooms!

I eventually pulled all of the dead plants out of the pot and started taking care of the little verbena that had come back from the dead. It flourished through the rest of the summer, but stayed pretty small.

Winter came. I took what was now a scrawny little plant with two little stalks of leaves up to the patio and diligently covered it along with other plants I tried to save every time the weather was going to be really cold. It didn’t look good, but it didn’t look dead, either!

When spring arrived, my little verbena was definitely not going to win a contest for most beautiful plant. But, it was alive. Two little stalks of alive! Hope! This feisty plant that refuses to die!

It has survived tremendous odds. It initially came back from the dead, surviving not having water in the hot Texas sun. It isn’t a perennial. It really shouldn’t have made it through the winter.  But it did!

I have a vested interest in keeping it alive now. It is my hope flower. It keeps on keeping on even when the odds are stacked against it. It reminds me of me. And I want to keep it alive and thriving … and I want to stay alive and thriving too!

Attitudes and a Crazy Bus Ride!

 

Last weekend, I attended LUNGevity’s National HOPE Summit that is held every year in Washington, DC. If you have lung cancer, consider attending a HOPE Summit. You will leave so uplifted and so hopeful! There is much happening in the lung cancer research field right now. These are exciting times!
But, the purpose of this post is actually to tell a story about a mishap that could have caused tempers to flair but instead found everyone laughing and having a great time.
LUNGevity treats its participants like royalty. On Saturday night, we took buses to the Old Angler’s Inn. A number of us loaded up onto Bus #5 (the last bus). I noticed right away that our bus driver had Google map directions that he was trying to read as he was driving. I didn’t say anything to anyone else about it until we had been on the road for quite some time and the driver started to make a turn, stopped pretty much in the middle of the intersection for a long while, and then continued forward back onto the freeway. DC traffic is pretty wild … his driving was making it worse!! Anyway, I mentioned to the person I was sitting with that the driver was clueless as to where we were going.
It wasn’t long before that fact filtered through the bus and soon we had several backseat drivers telling the actual driver where to turn next. By now, we had been on the road well over an hour to take a trip that was supposed to have been less than 30 minutes away.
About the time we had gotten the driver back on track (we were going to have to retrace most of the route we had already taken in order to get to the restaurant), all sorts of warning signals started ringing on the bus. We weren’t ever sure if we were nearly out of gas or just what the problem was, but the bus was in distress! The bus driver kept saying he was given “bad bus.” (He didn’t speak a lot of English)
We got him to pull of into a scenic area … for a moment . .. but then he pulled right back out into the DC traffic … bus dinging away with the warning bells … and bus without a lot of compression. We had a number of drivers going around us giving us the one-finger salute…
Finally, the driver was convinced to pull off into a lovely park area while we waited for the bus company to send help! Some of us bailed off of the bus so he would, hopefully, not decide to reenter the traffic!!!!

 

 

 

It was getting late. Most of us had not eaten for hours!! The groups that rode buses 1-4 had eaten and were now just waiting on us and wondering where in the world we were!
Everyone on that bus was either a caregiver or a lung cancer survivor. You did not hear complaining. What you heard was a ton of laughter and multiple jokes. We have learned that little incidents like that make life interesting. There was no reason to get angry or uptight. I suspect if all of us had been on a bus together BEFORE we were acquainted with living with cancer, the attitudes would have been far, far worse. Trivial little things like that are indeed trivial to us now.
It ain’t a picnic to have cancer, but you know, it sure does something to improve attitudes and outlooks on life. Or it has for those of us who attended that Summit.
For a hilarious account of this experience, go read what Dann Wonser had to say about it:

 

Thanks LUNGevity

5th Annual LUNGevity National HOPE Summit 

What is it?

I am home now from an AWESOME weekend that was spent in Washington, DC at the LUNGevity National HOPE Summit. It is held for lung cancer survivors and their caregivers every year. This year was the 5th anniversary. The event has grown from 17 survivors meeting in a small room to over 150 survivors, plus their caregivers, meeting in a large ballroom.

Lung cancer survivors who are attending for the first time are provided with the opportunity to apply for a generous grant that pays for airfare and hotel costs. Wow! What an opportunity!!

http://lungevity.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=cms.page&id=1080&eventID=534

 

Lots of HOPE

It was fascinating being in the ballroom with so many lung cancer survivors. We spanned many years. One gorgeous young lady is only 24 … and she’s already recovered from having part of a lung removed due to lung cancer. There were way too many young people there in their 20s, 30s, 40s … and then there were some of us who were older, too. Young, old, skinny, fat … black, white, yellow, brown … cancer does not care. It attacks us all.
No matter the age, race, nationality, or religion, the group as a whole was the most cheerful, hopeful group ever. Considering we are fighting the most deadly form of cancer there is, that’s remarkable in and of itself!
LUNGevity has trademarked May as Lung Cancer HOPE Month. We are hoping to raise awareness through a “What Takes Your Breath Away?” video campaign. I don’t think it will catch on among most of my friends … I’m sorry, they just are not all that supportive of this particular fight.  I don’t really know why that is the case. Regardless, I am hopeful that it will gain popularity among others so that more people will be aware that lung cancer happens to people with lungs, not just smokers. (See below)
It was wonderful to hear doctors and scientists at the HOPE Summit talk about the new treatments that are coming down the pike. It is sad that lung cancer is so poorly funded. It kills more people than any other cancer. In fact, during 2015, it is expected to be responsible for 27% of all cancer deaths among men and women. (http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@editorial/documents/document/acspc-044552.pdf)
According to the American Cancer Society publication (link above), 44% of lung cancer patients will survive one year. Only 17% are expected to survive for five years. For late-stage cancers like mine, only 26% survive a year and 4% make five years.
I am so fortunate. My traditional chemo regimen quit working about 7 months into my diagnosis. Were it not for the clinical trial I got into, I would have probably been one of the 74% who don’t survive a year. But, because of research and new technologies, specifically, immunotherapy, in my case, I am hopeful I will be in the 4% that are still alive and well five years after diagnosis.
But, I disgress … back to the Summit!
The packed room was filled with people who were quick to laugh, cheer, and tell their stories. Despite challenges, I don’t think there was anyone there who was not filled with lots of HOPE. Doctors and scientists were hopeful, too! Lung cancer research needs much, MUCH more funding, but even with limited research dollars, the scientists and doctors are making tremendous strides. It is so exciting to hear about targeted therapies that attack just the bad cells and immunotherapy that works by building up the cancer patient’s own immune system so that it can fend off the cancer. Anyone who has ever suffered through chemo knows how exciting it is that there are drugs available or coming soon that don’t send you to bed, wondering if treatment is worse than just dying from cancer.
I am sad that I didn’t take pictures at the National HOPE Summit. I was so involved in listening and chatting with others who have “been there done that,” that I never got my camera out of my purse. But, I’ve seen lots of pictures that other people took. And the smiles are infectious!!! People were having FUN all through the hotel!

Lung Cancer Awareness Campaign

So, LUNGevity is hoping the lung cancer awareness campaign will go viral. I mentioned it above, but wanted to both provide more information for those of you who might wish to participate and to post my first attempt. I decided today that I was going to try to do several. There are LOTS of things that take my breath away besides lung cancer. I’m going to try to highlight several of them. Some of my friends will probably be tempted to start blocking my Facebook posts because they are going to be tired of hearing about lung cancer. But, it is just that important to get the word out. Lung cancer is not a disease to ignore. It just isn’t.
To learn more about the campaign, go to http://www.lungevity.org/support-survivorship/lung-cancer-hope-month .  Please, please, PLEASE consider participating. The more people who will jump on the bandwagon, the better.
I’d be surprised if anyone reading this blog hasn’t been impacted at some point by lung cancer … a grandparent, parent, sibling, or friend or friend’s family … lung cancer is so common that almost everyone knows someone who has or has had lung cancer.
Let’s get the word out that:
  1. No one, absolutely NO ONE, deserves to have any kind of cancer, INCLUDING lung cancer.
  2. Smokers are NOT the only people who get lung cancer. Young, athletic people who never smoked are being diagnosed way too frequently. Sadly, doctors are MOST likely to let their cases go on and on before diagnosis … even doctors are influenced by the old campaigns that blamed smoking alone for lung cancer.
  3. There is HOPE!!! There is not as much as I wish there was, but there is hope. And if we could get more $$$$ directed toward lung cancer research, that hope would be multiplied many times over. It is incredible what our research community has done with such limited funding. It could grow exponentially if we could get more money to them.

My First Attempt

I tried doing a selfie video this afternoon for about an hour. I never really got anything worth publishing. I may set up my good camera on its tripod and try again tomorrow or Wednesday. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve come up with for my “What Takes My Breath Away” video: