Turning Lemons into Lemon PIE!

So … since I have had cancer, I have developed all kinds of new interests, or spent time trying to perfect (this is a strong word, but I can’t think of the one I need … thanks, Chemo Brain!) skills I already have. One of the new interests is gardening. And, one of the plants I added to my garden last spring was a lemon tree.

 

I have never tried to grow a fruit tree before, but some of my friends would post annual pictures of their lemon crops. I always wished I had a lemon tree, too. So, finally, in the spring of 2015, I ran across a nice tree at Walmart and brought it home. Its blossoms smelled like heaven.

 

 

 

It wasn’t very long before some of the blossoms fell off. In their place were teeny, tiny little green lemons!! So cute. I couldn’t imagine that those tiny little things would actually mature into something edible!

I enjoyed my tree all season long. I took pictures frequently as the blossoms and fruits progressed!

Butterflies and bees loved the blossoms as much as I did!

 

 

Close-up of the tiny little lemon!

 

The scent is like heaven. I think the blossoms are very pretty, too.

Waiting and watching fruit mature is a lesson in patience. I’m not particularly patient, to say the least, so it was a good lesson for me. There was nothing I could do to rush the progress. All I could do was wait, photograph, and watch! The little fruit appeared in April or May. A friend who had lemon trees told me that I would have mature fruit in October or so.

 

 

Sure enough! By October, my little fruit had grown into lemons like you find in the grocery store!! I was so excited! I know this must seem odd to people who garden … but, until last year, I never tried to grow anything. If it wasn’t on the grocery shelf, it didn’t come to our house.

By November, my little lemon tree was loaded down with big, juicy lemons. And, after waiting for them for so long, I couldn’t bring myself to pick them. Any of them.

Lemon trees cannot withstand cold temperatures. In mid-November, I decided I better bring mine into the house. Lemons and all.

You can’t tell by the pictures, but the tree is planted in a very large pot. The tree itself was not real tiny when I bought it. Because we had such a lovely (and rainy) spring, it grew by leaps and bounds. Getting it out of the yard and into the house was not an easy task! Especially with fruit hanging off of it!

But, we managed to get it indoors. Every day, I looked at that tree just loaded down with fruit. I kept waiting on the lemons to drop off on their own or to look shriveled and spoiled. But, they didn’t. In fact, I think they just kept on getting bigger and bigger!

Once, when my grandkids were here, we picked a couple. We ate one. It was good. We just left the other one on the table until it spoiled… Then, it was used in the disposal to make the house smell citrus-y!

In the end, and over a few months, we picked a few lemons, but we mostly left them on the tree. Finally, yesterday, January 17, 2016, I decided I should pluck the lemons off of the tree. The poor tree was trying to bloom to make more lemons. It wasn’t really fair to expect it to flower while still bearing fruit from the last season. Besides, I figured, it would not be nearly as productive if I didn’t remove its fruit burden from the previous year first.

 

Of the lemons I finally plucked, only one was no good. It had rested for too long against a branch of the tree, I think. It got cut up and put down the disposal.

So. Now I have a load of lemons. I don’t want them to go bad. But, I’m feeling too tired to really want to do anything with them. (This exhaustion often hits when I need to cook. I don’t enjoy cooking. If I had been offered an activity I love to do, my exhaustion would have quickly abated.)

The lemons sat on the table all day. I took pictures of them. And left them sitting.

Before we ate dinner, Robert asked when the lemon pie was going to be ready. My family kept waiting on those lemons to be picked so that we could enjoy some fresh lemon pie. That’s probably why I kept leaving them on the tree … I didn’t want to make a lemon pie! That’s unnecessary cooking! 🙂

(I am the worst housekeeper and cook you’ll find. I LOVE to be active, but I don’t enjoy cooking and I don’t enjoy cleaning. And, I try to avoid doing either one as much as I possibly can. I wish it wasn’t so, but it just is.)

I started feeling guilty. We all love lemon pie. We’ve all watched those lemons go from flowers to tiny little green orbs to real, live, big lemons. We’ve all thought about how good a lemon pie would be made from those home-grown lemons…

BIG SIGH. Okay! I looked up the recipe. Took several tries to find the one that sounded familiar (it has been years since I last made a lemon pie). The recipe I use uses corn starch. Great. I know I have some. But where?

Here I am. Not in the mood to make a pie in the first place. Looking everywhere for the corn starch. It isn’t anywhere that I think it should be. But, admittedly, my pantry has become a bit disarrayed. Okay, a lot disarrayed.

I was just about to decide I was going to have to go to the grocery store to get corn starch when I finally found the brand new, unopened box. (It was probably bought in 2012, but it was there waiting on me!)

 

 

I haven’t made a pie in a long time. I guess I overbeat the egg whites. We got those little droplets on top of the meringue that you get sometimes. I did beat them until they were REALLY stiff!!! I sort of combined two recipes to make the pie. I started with one that was on my phone and ended with one on the back of the corn starch box. It worked out okay.

 

 

Taking that first bite! So exciting!
Yum!!! Pretty good stuff!

Well … despite my not wanting to make a pie, we sure enjoyed those slices we ate last night. I’ve been dreaming of having another slice today! It was slightly warm when we finally could wait no longer last night. Today, it should be nice and chilled.

So. There’s a lesson here. Of course.

Lemons are awfully sour. Even these Myer lemons that are not supposed to be so sour. Most people don’t like to just sit down and eat a lemon the way you do an orange or a banana.

But, with a bit of sugar and a bit of fire added, the lemon becomes a sweet and delectable custard.

Like us. Hopefully. We go through the fire and hopefully we come out a better person as a result. Cancer is a fire, for sure. Do we let it consume us or mold us? The choice is ours.

That brings me to the following…

A good friend posted me yesterday with a link to a sermon she’d been listening to. She said it reminded her of me. I couldn’t wait to listen.

Here’s the link:
http://www.intouch.org/watch/when-we-dont-understand-why

It is Dr. Charles Stanley preaching a sermon on “When We Don’t Understand Why.”

We often don’t understand why. Why did we lose everything in a fire or a tornado or an earthquake? Why did we get cancer? Or have a heart attack?

WE don’t know. But God does. And, for me, that’s all I have to know. HE has it under control. My job is to just continue living for as long as I have breath. My job is to turn those lemons into lemon pie!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Week in My Life

A Little History

Since I began the clinical trial for Opdivo back in July 2013, my life was returned to me. While I was on chemo, there were quite a few days when I wondered if the fight against lung cancer was really worth it.

Chemo made me so violently ill that I can remember being curled up on the bed with my Sheltie Barney wondering how in the world I could endure an existence that put me in such misery, time after time. I began to think that if this is what life is going to be like, let me off of this train sooner rather than later.

With chemo, I would feel good for a day or so after treatment (thank you, steroids!), but then the nausea and vomiting and fatigue would set in. For two or three days, I could get out of bed or off of the couch only to go throw up. I couldn’t eat or drink. It took every ounce of willpower and strength to walk 10 feet into the kitchen.

I couldn’t live. I could only exist … and it wasn’t a pleasant existence.

Fortunately, those horrid days lasted for less than a week. By the second week after a chemo infusion, I was feeling much better. I could eat and drink again. I could make myself live a somewhat normal life. By week three, just in time to go back for another infusion and begin the process all over again, I felt pretty good.

For the first infusions, I was able to keep my spirits high. I could look at the bright side and focus on what I could do, rather than on what I couldn’t. But, the longer the process went on, the harder it was becoming not to get depressed during that third week. I was knowingly getting ready to submit again to a treatment that was going to totally knock the wind out of my sails. Is that insanity, I wondered? Everyone knows Stage IV lung cancer patients don’t live long, I thought, so why was I making myself so miserable for at least a third of the time I had left on this earth?

Chemo treatments went on for about six or seven months. Finally, my doctor said we would take a break from treatments. He hoped the tumors would remain stable, but they didn’t. The minute we stopped treatments, they started growing. All of the headway we had made with the chemo was lost.

That’s when my doctor asked me if I wanted to begin a new regimen of chemo or start a clinical trial. The chemo was expected to be less effective while making me sicker. Ugh. No thanks. Clinical trial, here I come!

I didn’t expect the clinical trial to do anything for me. I expected to be a test subject so that decisions could be made for future cancer fighters.

I could not have been more wrong! From the moment I started the trial, I started feeling better. And my tumors were stopped in their tracks. And, now, 2-1/2 years later, my tumors are still stable and I still feel great!

So, I thought some of those reading this blog might get a little bit of hope from reading about my week last week. I think you will agree that it does not sound like a week in the life of a typical stage IV lung cancer survivor. The good and surprising news is that many other Stage IV lung cancer thrivers DO have similar weeks! Guys, there is HOPE … and lots of it!!

Fun, Fun, and more Fun!

It has taken me awhile to get this blog written. The reason? I’ve been too busy to sit down and write it! Don’t you think that’s a good thing?

The week I sat down to write about started with a Run As One agility trial. In order to have a trial, the barn has to be readied. Linda Lelak and I both start trial weekend on Friday afternoons, helping with set-up. It requires the lugging of equipment from place to place. By the time these pictures were taken, we were nearly finished emptying the stall where everything was stored and carrying it out to the barn.

 

 

 

 

Since the dogs came to the trial on separate days, we took the opportunity for a photo shoot on Friday after we got things set up!

 

Saturday and Sunday – 4 days compressed into 2

Cotton got to play on Saturday; Barney on Sunday. They both had a lot of fun! Barney finally earned his last Open Touch N Go title, so he’ll start in Elite at the next trial. We’ve been chasing that title for about two years so I was really excited when we had a clean run!

 

Here is Barney’s Touch N Go run. He had a good day. He was oh-so-slightly too slow (he missed making time by less than half a second) in Tunnelers to earn a qualifying score, but he qualified in Touch N Go and in his Regular run.

Cotton wasn’t quite as successful! She DID succeed in having a great time, though. And, in all honesty, that’s what it is all about. Just to be fair, here’s one of her runs. You can see that she runs very happy!

But, this is not so much about agility as it is a chronicle of my week. So, let’s move on.

Saturday, November 14th, was a busy date. As I mentioned, I ran Cotton in agility during the day. For the evening, there were three possibilities for activities.

First, American Cancer Society wanted me to speak at a semi-formal fundraising event they were hosting. I frantically looked for a way to get a cocktail outfit without spending a lot of money. I run dogs in barns; I rarely attend events where fancy clothes are necessary. My friends really came through with offers for help. It was heartwarming.

About the time I figured out what I was going to wear, I got an email saying that the event had to be canceled due to lack of ticket sales. I was sad on the one hand … and breathed a sigh of relief on the other. I hated that the event was so poorly supported that it had to be canceled.

I had barely relaxed from having that event canceled when I got a note from my doctor’s office wanting to know if I could attend a Dallas Stars hockey game on Saturday night. I was excited to get the offer to participate with Chris Draft’s Team Draft Foundation, mainly because a good friend and fellow lung cancer survivor was going to be there.

Now, there is another outfit dilemma. I have no Stars jersey to wear. And, once again, I don’t want to spend $50 to $100 (or more) getting one!

Just about the time we decided we would just bite the bullet and get something, I got yet another email saying the event was canceled for Saturday night and would be rescheduled. Ahhh, Saturday night is going to be a night of relaxation after all.

Oh wait! Here comes an invitation to a good agility friend’s birthday party – chips and salsa and nachos … This event did not get canceled! It was a lot of fun to see everyone. I am the only one of that particular crowd who runs NADAC agility. The others run in AKC and/or USDAA, two venues I eschewed after my cancer diagnosis, so it is like a reunion when we get together for a meal.

I came home from the party and did a quick load of laundry (quick = about 2 hours) and crashed so that I could get up before daylight on Sunday.

While I ran four runs on Saturday with Cotton, I only ran three with Barney on Sunday. I knew that I had another obligation to meet on Sunday night and I was afraid there wasn’t time for more runs.

On Sunday night, I had to be in Dallas by 5 PM for a Free to Breathe meeting. This is a foundation that was started by Dr. Joan Schiller, currently the head of oncology at UTSW, and a lung cancer expert. Like LUNGevity, they host a 5K walk to raise money for research.

They also do other events. I had previously worked at one of their tables at a Dallas Stars game doing lung cancer awareness. I’ve tried to determine the major differences between LUNGevity and Free to Breathe. From my own perspective, they both do great work raising funds for research. LUNGevity is also focused very much on lung cancer survivors. They are all about offering HOPE to those of us fighting the disease. They do a wonderful job of it.

Sherry and I have HOPE … and lots of it!

Free to Breathe, I have decided, has a primary focus, besides raising funds for research, of increasing awareness about lung cancer. You will find them at health fairs and other events.

I’m happy to be involved with both organizations because I believe offering survivors and thrivers (a term I learned from Free to Breathe and that I absolutely love) hope and information is incredibly important. Lots of us are living still. Our prognosis is not as dark as it was. This is vitally important information for people with lung cancer. Don’t give up. Never give up.

But, I believe it is equally as important to get the word out to the masses that lung cancer attacks more people than any other cancer besides breast. It kills more than breast, prostate, and colon cancers combined. There are two reasons why I believe lung cancer is so deadly:
1. people believe it is a smokers’ only disease, which couldn’t be further from the truth and 2. it is usually without symptoms until it has advanced to stage 3 or 4.

I had a lot of fun meeting everyone at the Free to Breathe event. I hope I will have a lot of opportunities to work with them … as well as with LUNGevity.

Monday

I kept thinking that cramming four days into two over the weekend would not be a problem because I would just rest while I was at chemo. Chemo day (a misnomer, really, because I don’t get chemo, I get immunotherapy … but both require an infusion and it is just easier to call it chemo day!) is usually a long day. It begins with a blood draw. Then, I wait an hour or so while the blood is read. Then, I have a visit with my favorite oncologist in the world. He orders the immunotherapy. It takes an hour or so for the pharmacy to get the life-saving concoction put together. Then, the infusion begins. The drip only takes an hour. Still, even if everything is running like clockwork, which it doesn’t always, I am there for a minimum of 3.5 hours. Usually, it is more like four or five hours.

I love most everyone at UTSW so the time goes pretty fast. Nevertheless, it is a long day. I do not usually rest. Monday was no exception!

Tuesday

I actually had nothing to do on Tuesday. I usually have agility practice, but instead, we had rain. As much as I love my agility lessons, I was happy to have a day off. I did very little besides rest.

Wednesday

On Wednesday, I met a couple of friends for a movie and a late lunch. I never went to the movies until I met Anna. Now, I go at least once a month and often two or three times a month! It is a nice way to lose yourself in a world that doesn’t usually include cancer.

Thursday

Thursday was an exciting day! I say frequently that having cancer has opened many doors for me that would have never opened otherwise. I can’t exactly be happy that I have cancer, but I can tell you that I am enjoying my life. A lot.

So, Thursday is usually an agility training day so it is always a day I enjoy. But, this Thursday, was something different. Robert and I went back to UTSW, this time to do an interview with WFAA, Channel 8 news.

It just so happened that the interview took place on the day of the Great American Smokeout. So, instead of being on the news once, I should end up being featured twice.

http://www.wfaa.com/story/news/health/2015/11/20/great-american-smokeout-help-smokers-quit/76130726/

Advertising UTSW’s new initiative

 

Waiting on the reporter to arrive

 

Dr Gerber explaining what my CT scans mean

It is with mixed emotions that I was part of the feature above. I surely want people to know that they can and should quit smoking. But, I don’t want anyone to get the mistaken idea that only smokers get lung cancer. Because nothing is further from the truth and way too many people die because they think they are immune.

It only takes lungs to get lung cancer. That’s it.

We are anticipating that another segment will be aired on November 30, during the 4 PM news. I guess I will probably not see it live as I will be having chemo again. It would be highly unusual for me to make it home by 4, especially on a Monday after a long Thanksgiving holiday. Thank goodness for DVRs!

I had so much fun doing the interview. I love my doctor. I love the nurses and aides. It was especially fun that some of them got to be on TV, too! Sonia, the health reporter, was so nice. I felt like we were old friends! And, finally, I had an interview where my mouth didn’t get dry and I didn’t experience a moment of nervousness. Yes!!!!

RW and Kim had come in from New Mexico on Wednesday. They came over to watch the news story with us. Mom came too. Afterwards, Mom took us out to the Goldmine for dinner. It was a really fun day.

Friday

On Friday, Linda and I had agility class. We always have so much fun. Both Barney and Louie did an excellent job getting great distance and following our directions. I love to trial, but I love class even more.

After class, RW and Kim came over to help me clean house a bit before we went after Jimmy and Jonah. The kids are spending a little over a week with their dad … and were they excited!!!

Grandma … not the camera AGAIN!!

It is always great fun to have the kids, but it does turn our quiet existence a bit topsy-turvy! The boys have a lot of energy!! And, especially when they first arrive, a lot to say!

Saturday

On Saturday, we had a great time. Linda, Mom, and I were signed up to work a Lung Cancer Awareness table for Free to Breathe at a Stars ice skating rink in Plano. Genentech was sponsoring a Free Skate for kids and adults as part of the awareness event. So, we all loaded up and headed to the Dr. Pepper StarCenter in Plano.

 

 

 

Neither the kids nor the dad had ever been ice-skating before. They did really well. By the end of the Free Skate, Jonah was skating on his own. Jimmy took off on his own from the start.

We all had a wonderful time. At the Awareness table, we got lots of interest and gave away many blue (LUNGevity) and white (Free to Breathe) bracelets. A few people took more information.

 

 

Sunday

On Sunday, I totally forgot that I am no longer young and did something I haven’t done in years. I got up at 1:30 AM to get ready to go to a dog agility trial in Oklahoma with Ed and Linda and five dogs (three border collies, a Sheltie, and a Pom/Eskie). I picked Linda up at 2:15 and we headed to Ed’s. Because there wasn’t much traffic, we arrived in record time! The house was dark and quiet!

Linda and I, like teenagers, were outside with the dogs, trying to be quiet, but also having fun. She shined the flashlight into the porta-potty so I could see and then we used the flashlight to take the dogs through weave poles. This, my friends, is what they call “agility addicts.”

We were on the road to Norman, OK by 3:30. We laughed and talked, talked and laughed … and had a great time! This trial was done “beta” style, which means you run the same course twice. While we had a great time, Barney and I didn’t manage to have a qualifying score. I had a few chemo brain moments (I get to blame things on chemo brain … it could also have been called “senior moment”) during our runs that cost us. Barney, on the other hand, had some pretty runs!

This run was Regular 1. Barney had a beautiful run. If only his Mom hadn’t forgotten a jump, it would have been one of the nicest runs we’ve had. Where was my head??? On the second time through the exact same course, I managed to include the jump, but Barney thought I really wanted him to do the dogwalk instead of the tunnel at the discrimination. We argued about it for a bit…

What a fun, fun day. We arrived back to Ed’s by 5 or so.

Sum it Up

So … while this week may have been a bit more active and filled with more unusual activities than normal, I managed to do it all. And, keep in mind, chemo (immunotherapy) was part of the week. Had I still been getting chemotherapy, most of the activities described here would have had to be put on hold. But, with immunotherapy, and the way I personally react to it, I had a very, very full week.

Here’s what I want to leave you with. Getting a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis can be devastating. But, it isn’t the end of the world. There is HOPE. There is more and more hope every single day as researchers find more and better ways to treat our cancer.

Don’t give up. Never give up.

 

 

Lung Cancer Awareness Month

It’s November. Nearly. It will be in just a few hours. So, finally, Pinktober ends. And Lung Cancer Awareness month begins. I’m afraid we won’t see a flood of white ribbons everywhere. For the most part, people just don’t really care about lung cancer. Which seems pretty weird to me since so many people will someday get that diagnosis themselves (or watch a loved one go through it).

Sooooooo, this is a month when I will once again flood my Facebook account with information about lung cancer. The general public may be ill-informed, but I can assure you, my friends should be well aware that the only thing it takes to get lung cancer is lungs.

It seems that every year I find ways to get a little more involved in awareness and advocacy. And, I’m really enjoying the role. I’m finding myself seeking out more and more ways to get the word out, besides what I do on Facebook. I think what I do on Facebook is not all that effective. Most people, I think, just scroll past my posts that have to do with cancer.

Breathe Deep DFW 2015

The month and Lung Cancer Awareness begins with a walk at River Legacy Park in Arlington, TX, on November 1. It was a cool and cloudy day. There wasn’t as large a crowd as I would have liked to see, but the ones who were there had a great time, I think.

Of course, the event was organized to raise money for lung cancer research. The goal for the event was only $45,000. But, we didn’t meet that. Not even close. We were able to raise a mere $23,712.95. Who gave 95 cents???

I don’t know how hard everyone else tried to get their friends and colleagues to donate. I worked hard for the $1,420 I finally managed to raise. I even enlisted the help of Cotton and Barney, thinking maybe they could reach my dog friends when I couldn’t. Didn’t work. No one even bothered to watch their video.

I got my feelings hurt when people didn’t respond to my pleas. I took it very personally. On the other hand, I was beyond touched by donations I got. They were mostly given by people I really didn’t expect to contribute. Just as NOT getting donations from people I thought would support me broke my heart, the contributions I got put a big smile on my face and song in my heart. Truly.

I can honestly say, I’m glad the fundraising is over with for awhile! I am obviously not very good at it and it puts me on too many ups and downs.

So, with that said, the event was a lot of fun. There were bounce houses, a DJ, lots of picture taking, and some dancing! Oh yeah! And a 1.2 mile walk or 5K run.

 

 

Lung cancer survivors, supporters and caregivers KNOW how to have some fun!!!

It is hard to believe that I only met the ladies in the picture below at last year’s event:

How I love them. Sherry (in the middle) is young and was athletic. Not a smoker. She’s missing part of a lung. The two of us started the team for this year. We named it Hope & Giggles because we have a ton of hope and we love, love, love to laugh and giggle! Her mom, Susan, in the blue shirt, is one of the best supporters ever.

Gail is a 27-year survivor of cancer. She’s had breast, thyroid and lung cancer during those years. You’ll never met a person with more heart or joy for life.

It was wonderful to see them at the event again this year.  If you look closely, you’ll see Katie Brown photobombing Susan, Sherry, and Gail! Katie is responsible for the fact that there is a walk. She began them after her dad passed away from lung cancer. We lung cancer survivors are especially lucky to have her in our corner. She is a tireless worker and advocate.

My friends, Cathy and Courtney Kuebler, joined us on the walk. It meant the world to me that they were willing to give up their Sunday to come to Arlington (not a short trip for either) and spend it on the walk with me. They are beautiful inside and out and I am so proud to call them friends.

 

My mom decided that she wanted to support me with her presence. She asked me if I thought she could make the walk. Well, I honestly didn’t know for sure, but figured we could give it a try. If she found she couldn’t make it, we’d figure out how to get her back to the car.

Mom hates this picture. She thinks it makes her look likes she’s 105. I don’t think so. I think she looks beautiful and younger than her 85 years.

She enjoyed coming and meeting all of my friends. And yes, she made that 1.2 mile walk with no problems at all!

Smiles. Smiles Everywhere.

You know, when I was first diagnosed with lung cancer, I didn’t think I wanted to be around others with cancer. I’ve never been particularly depressed or sad or down-trodden by my diagnosis, but I assumed I was an exception. I’ve found out that I was wrong. Way wrong.

 

Sherry and I pretended we had run the course and won!! (We HAD finished the 1.2 mile walk, but we pretended we had done more!) Notice the smiles. They’re not fake or contrived. These are two lung cancer survivors living and loving life.

 

Gail (27 years), Donna (3 years), Tom(11 years), Sherry (1 year), and Susan … 4 survivors and an awesome mom. Plenty of smiles!

 

This picture was taken by Katie or Hunter Brown of some of the cancer survivors who came to the walk. We are loving life and one another.

 

As The Month Progresses

I will be trying to find ways to get the word out that lung cancer hits people with lungs, not just smokers.

On November 7, there is a workshop/conference for lung cancer survivors that some of my friends and I will be attending. It is a great time to get together and possibly we’ll find new ways to get involved while we’re there.

On November 21, I’ll be at the Dr Pepper Starcenter in Plano at a Free Skate. I really don’t know much about the whole thing just yet, but I’ll be handing out literature and talking to others about lung cancer.

If I can get myself in gear, I’ll try to write some letters to the editor or articles for online publications or something. I have a blog to write this week for another group. It is to deal with advocating for yourself. Maybe it will get my creative juices flowing!!! 🙂

So … here we go … I hope I don’t lose any friends over my advocacy this month. I guess if anyone unfriends me, they weren’t friends to start with.

In case you don’t know yet:

All it takes to get lung cancer is lungs.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
 
 
Lung cancer doesn’t just happen to smokers.
 
Lung cancer happens to people who have lungs.

My Story

I am often asked for my story. I thought I might write it out and post it here. It will be easier to find and then copy and paste elsewhere when needed.

Finding the Cancer

When my Stage IV lung cancer was discovered in October 2012, I was, as far as I knew, as healthy as I have ever been in my life. I was playing agility with my two dogs three or four nights a week and every weekend. For those who do not know, agility takes a lot of stamina and energy! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCFrUCu6F_g)

I went to the doctor because I kept gaining weight. No matter what I did, I couldn’t lose it. Since I had always been tall and thin, the extra weight was disturbing me. I self-diagnosed thyroid issues.

I am not a doctor goer. When I went to the doctor on that fateful October day, it was the first time I had been in 10 or more years. I chose the doctor based on her name  – I knew someone else who had the same name – and the fact that she took my insurance. This was the luckiest choice I could have ever made.

The doctor felt a very, very small knot on my collarbone. She sent me for a CT scan. That day.

She called in a few days to tell me that my thyroid was fine, but I had some strange cell activity in my lungs. I needed a PET scan, she said.

I had never heard of a PET scan. When we got off of the phone, I immediately began to research. And, what I found was scary. PET scans are used to determine malignant activity. Cancer????? Me????? But, I was as healthy as I had ever been.

Sure enough, I was diagnosed with cancer. Specifically, I was told I had Stage IV adenocarcinoma of the lungs that was both inoperable and could not be radiated. Chemotherapy was my only option.

I had watched my father die of lung cancer back when I was in my early 20s. His cancer was also discovered by accident, during a routine physical required by his place of employment. Six months later, at barely 49, my dad died. He went through hell during those six months after diagnosis, suffering through chemo and radiation. I had always said chemotherapy was something I would never, ever do.

Until it was my only choice.

Starting Treatments

I began chemo – a cocktail of Avastin, Alimta, and carboplatin – in early December 2012. I was one of those people who had a difficult time. No matter what nausea medicine we tried, I was incredibly sick the first week after an infusion. Fortunately, my health improved by leaps and bounds during weeks two and three. I was feeling pretty good when it was time for yet another infusion.

1st day of chemo … let’s get this show on the road!

I underwent four infusions of the three drugs. My tumors responded. They didn’t go away, but they shrank. After four treatments, my oncologist decided to change the treatment. For four more treatments, every three weeks, I received Avastin. I am one of the unusual ones. Avastin made me as sick as the three-chemo infusions had.

However, my tumors had responded. They shrank. They didn’t spread. My oncologist was happy. He decided to give my body a break and stop all treatments for awhile. He expected my tumors to remain stable. But, a CT scan revealed that it wasn’t to be. The tumors had grown back to nearly the size they had been prior to beginning treatments.

The oncologist told me that I basically had two choices. I could begin another line of chemo, with a drug that wasn’t as effective and that had worse side effects than those I had already had. Or, I could participate in a clinical trial. It was not a difficult decision for me at all. I chose to go into a clinical trial.

Clinical Trial

I really didn’t have great expectations for extending my own life, but I wanted to help others coming up behind me. So, I went to the UT Southwestern Medical Center, one of 69 NCI-designated cancer centers, in July 2013.

Nearly immediately, I was fortunate enough to get into a Phase III clinical trial. In this Phase, the drug or treatment is given to many people to confirm its effectiveness, monitor side effects, compare it to other treatments, and collect information that will allow the drug or treatment to be used safely. In my trial, the efficacy of the experimental treatment, immunotherapy, was compared to a known and common chemotherapy, Docetaxel. I was happy that I drew the straw that allowed me to receive the experimental drug.

Entering the clinical trial was the best thing that could have ever happened.  I now have been in the trial for over two years. I responded to it immediately. Since I began the trial, my tumors have been completely stable. I have very, very few side effects. The worst happened early on – my thyroid quit working properly, so I now take a little pill once a day.

I go every two weeks for blood tests, doctor visit, and treatment. The treatment itself takes an hour to drip. Until recently, I was required to have CT scans every 6 weeks. However, the drug company amended the trial plan and I now have scans every 12 weeks.

Sharon, my Nurse Practitioner

Grace, the nurse who usually accesses my port

How much more is there?

The Present

The clinical trial and the immunotherapy gave my life back to me. I am able to live fully and completely – at a time when no one expected me to still be alive, much less living well!

October 2015 with Barney

Feeling Blessed … Again … and Always

Fair Day!

There are actually very few days that I wake up and do not feel blessed. And, for that, I am very thankful. My nature is to look on the bright side of life, which makes me a much happier person than I could be!

But, today’s entry has to do with just how fortunate I really am to still be here among the living.

We know the stats … only 17% of the 221,000 people diagnosed with lung cancer in 2015 will still be here on earth in 5 years. Get a stage IV diagnosis and that percentage drops into the single digits. Scary stuff, lung cancer.

Consider me lucky because I happen to know several people who are 5+ year survivors. I hope to know more and more as those I know pass that milestone. I have 2 more years before I celebrate 5 years. Every day that passes, I get closer!!

I entered this immunotherapy trial I am in back in July 2013. It was, essentially, a last ditch effort to stay alive. Last week, I sat for my 55th or 56th infusion. 26 months.

My doctor and my immunotherapy clinical trial have been in the news this week. My doctor is a co-author on a major international study … which just happens to be covering the trial I am in.

This article, http://www.dddmag.com/news/2015/09/bmss-nivolumab-opdivo-extends-survival-rate-lung-kidney-cancer, has a paragraph in it that really brings home how special it is that I remain among the living.

At one year after treatment, 51 percent of the 292 patients treated with nivolumab, a PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor, survived, compared with 39 percent of the 290 patients treated with docetaxel. At 18 months, survival was 39 percent among those treated with nivolumab and 23 percent among patients treated with docetaxel, the study found.

Wow. Only about 119 of the nearly 300 who started this study were still alive after 18 months. I wonder how many remained after 24 months? I know that I am the only person in the Dallas area that remains in my trial. That’s been true for at least the last 12 months. I never really considered the fact that the others may have died. I just thought they got out of the trial. I hope that’s all that happened.

The press release featuring my doctor (with a little quote from me!) can be found at http://www.newswise.com/articles/immunotherapy-superior-to-chemotherapy-for-lung-cancer-in-international-trial-involving-ut-southwestern-cancer-researchers.

I don’t know why God has chosen to leave me here on this earth. I am glad He has. I am not really ready to die. I am having a great time here. But, heck, the alternative is surely not something to dread when you believe like I do. Streets of gold and living in the presence of Jesus … not a bad gig at all 😃😃!

Still, every day I am made more and more aware of just how fortunate I am to still be alive. And, I resolve to be even more diligent in bringing to the attention of everyone I know, whether they want to hear it or not, the fact that lung cancer happens – to anyone with lungs – and it is deadly. We need more research funding. Lots and lots more research funding. For me … and for everyone who comes behind me.

Why Me? Why Not Me?

I titled this blog entry back in May 2015, but never came back to it. Maybe today is a good day to work on it.

I play on a number of sites where people post questions and thoughts and I am often struck by the “woe is me” attitude. It doesn’t come just from people afflicted with an illness or who have lost someone to disease or tragedy. It comes from people who strain a muscle and have to recuperate or have a dog who can’t run agility or who just don’t think life is fair to them for any number of reasons. Why me? Why me?

Bad things happen to good people … and good things happen to bad people. That’s how life is. Our reaction to them is what makes us different.

So … I ask, “Why me?” Why did I have to get lung cancer when I was the happiest, most active, and healthiest of my life??? What’s fair about that?

There’s nothing fair about life. It just is what it is. We all have our trials and tribulations. And, when we are going through them, they seem huge to us. Even if they don’t seem so big to others.

I find myself mostly asking, when I even bother to think about it, is not “why me?” but, “why NOT me?” Or, “if not me, then who?” Would I wish some horrible tragedy to befall someone else to spare myself? If it worked that way. Which, of course, it does not. But, if it did. I have to tell you that if God had come to me and said, “Either you or someone of your choosing is going to fight lung cancer. Choose who.” I would choose me. I could never wish it on someone else. Not even a someone I am not fond of.

So, why not me?

My mother was very proud that I was asked to go to Washington to speak. She told all of her friends about it. They couldn’t understand why me. They all know people with cancer. And those people weren’t asked to go.

So, why me? I questioned that myself. It really was an exceptional opportunity,  so why me?? There are hundreds of thousands of others who could have been asked. Many would have been a better choice: younger, prettier, more vivacious, better speaker… Why me?

I am certain I am not the only person to wonder!!

But, does the question not also beg of itself, “why not me?” Am I less deserving because I am old, ugly, and not a public speaker? Does that make my story worthless?

So, why not me?

There you have it!! The question works both ways … good and bad, bad and good.

Wow!! Washington, DC … Here I Come!

Lately, my life has taken some strange twists and turns. And, in the process, I have gained memories that will last a lifetime.

I am certain I should not say that I am happy I have Stage IV lung cancer. And, the reality is, that I would give up all of the experiences I am about to tell you about NOT to have lung cancer. But, as long as I do … what a ride it has been!!!!

The Beginning

About a year ago, I decided to participate in the Breathe Deep DFW 2014 walk in Arlington, TX. It was an event sponsored by LUNGevity … I had never heard of LUNGevity and I had never before participated in an event similar to this one. But, I made myself go, despite the fact that I didn’t know a soul who was going to be there and had no one to go with me.

 

 

 

I got there early. I walked around and took some pictures … and generally felt a little ill at ease. I am not a person that goes to events like this all by myself. Why I did on this November morning, I will never know. God was directing me. That’s the only possible explanation.

While I was at the event, I met some awesome people. One was Katie Brown, who was responsible for the entire event. She is also a VP with LUNGevity. It was through Katie that I learned about a Regional HOPE Summit that would soon be held in Irving and a National HOPE Summit that would be held in Washington, DC.

The summits bring together lung cancer survivors. They have food, speakers, food, and fun. As the names state – the summits are all about HOPE. Because, as deadly as lung cancer is, there are quite a few survivors out there. Some of us are making it! HOPE!!!

The Irving summit was free. Once again, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and attended. Robert went with me … at least for a little while. I had an enjoyable time, meeting other lung cancer survivors, hearing what the guest speakers had to say, eating some good food…!

I learned more about the National Summit that is held every year in Washington, DC. The Foundation pays for first time attendees to go – airfare and hotel room!! Last year, there was a small $50 fee to attend. I wanted to go!!!

I had so much fun at the National Summit. I met so many other survivors there. Some had been recently diagnosed; some have been surviving for many years. Some were young, some older. Some smokers, some not. A diverse group of people brought together by disease. So, we shared one thing in common – the burning desire to fight – and to fight HARD – to beat this formidable foe.

There was a lot of laughter and plenty of good times at both Summits. There were super people everywhere. And great food. And informative speakers. Very informative speakers. We have lung cancer, but we also have lots of reasons to have hope. That’s the message … and that’s the truth.

So. The journey begins! A walk in Arlington, TX. A HOPE Summit in Irving, Texas. An annual HOPE Summit in Washington, DC … a connection to LUNGevity.

Immunotherapy

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I have been getting immunotherapy for over two years. I asked the nurse yesterday how many treatments I have received. Yesterday was number 56. Which might actually only be number 55 in reality. I had to miss one treatment because I broke my arm and had to have surgery just weeks after beginning the clinical trial. Either way – a lot! I am nearly certain I am the only person in the trial in the Dallas area and that that has been the case for at least a year. Maybe longer.

You will never meet a bigger proponent for immunotherapy or clinical trials. I have gained my life back because I took that step and joined a clinical trial. I am so lucky because for some reason, I am that person that the immunotherapy really, REALLY works well for.

Well, the fact that I am in a clinical trial and doing well on immunotherapy has opened some big doors for me. BIG doors! Some of them, scary doors!

Katie Brown … of LUNGevity fame … asked on our LUNGevity Facebook group several months ago if anyone was receiving immunotherapy. I quickly raised my hand – again, I love immunotherapy!!

American Association for Cancer Research

The next thing I know, I got an email from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). They wanted my story. I said, “sure.” I thought they wanted me to sit down and write a blurb about my experiences with immunotherapy. I expected to spend a half day or so writing and perfecting. I thought I would send it away and that would be that.

Except, I was thinking wrong.

The AACR didn’t want me to write my story. They wanted me to TELL my story. To a video camera and still camera. To people. Uh. No. I don’t DO public speaking. I just don’t.

I grew far less interested. I am camera-shy and I do not … do not … do public speaking. Even when that public speaking is in my living room to only a few people.

So, I started just not answering emails from AACR. Because camera crews (still and video) were not my cup of tea. And not at my house … I HATE to clean house…

Well, responses to emails or not, the AACR was moving forward with plans to come to my house to video me telling my story. I got an email on a Monday that the film crew would arrive at my house the following Wednesday at 10 AM.

There really was no backing down at this point.

I should say that the AACR is an AWESOME organization. It has been around since 1907. It is the oldest foundation in American dedicated to cancer research. Some of the best minds in the US are involved with it. This is no rinky-dink organization I am dealing with!

Film Crew Arrives

So, on that Wednesday, I got up early to do a little cleaning. I finished early, so I fixed Robert and me some breakfast. I was washing dishes when the phone rang and I was informed the film crew was there. Over an hour before I expected them. I hadn’t even had my shower yet!

Thank goodness I am not a worrier! Much of a worrier, anyway. I just told them I would be out as soon as possible – I had to get a shower!

It was a ton of fun to do the photo shoot and video. I have never … and will probably never again … had such an experience.  I had a blast.

The interview, photos, and filming took about 5 hours. The editors managed to get a single page story and a 4:27 minute video! Amazing work because they managed to capture me well, especially in the video.

Here are the results:

http://cancerprogressreport.org/2015/Pages/fernandez.aspx?Page=0 (written story)


My story joins the stories of 49 other cancer survivors. Every year, for the past five years, the AACR has featured 10 survivors in their annual Cancer Progress Reports. I am featured in the 2015 report. It is an awesome report. If you are interested in facts about cancer, you’ll be interested in seeing the entire report: http://www.cancerprogressreport-digital.org/cancerprogressreport/2015?pg=1#pg1

Washington, DC – Capitol Hill

I was told I would get a subscription to a magazine produced by AACR for participating in the video project. So, imagine my surprise when I got an email inviting me to attend the release of the report on Capitol Hill as a guest of the AACR.

I quickly responded that I would love to come to DC to attend the release!
In a day or two, I got another email. I was asked if I would make myself available to the press … and … would I be interested in being a presenter during the release of the report on Capitol Hill?
Hello???? Remember??? This is Donna. She is NOT a public speaker. Not even close. And you want her to speak for FIVE MINUTES to top government officials on CAPITOL HILL???

Speak in WASHINGTON, DC??? ME??????????????

Well, I said I would be happy to make myself available to the press, but I was the wrong person to do the speech. I cannot emphasize enough – I am NOT a public speaker. If I was, I would have a lot more money than I do right now because I was given many opportunities to give workshops about grant writing. Because of my extreme fear of public speaking, those workshops didn’t go well … and I quit even trying. And now, you’re asking me to speak on CAPITOL HILL????

I was encouraged again to speak. I can’t understand why. And, I really can’t believe I agreed to do so. But I did. And, I was really glad that I did.

 

I was only given five minutes to speak. That sounded like a LOT of time when I was first told I had that long. But, trust me, getting a speech down to just five minutes is a challenge! Especially for someone as verbose as I am! But, I did it … at least within a few seconds.
I prayed. Lots of people prayed. I practiced. Thank God for good friends who were willing to help me – read the speech, comment on it, listen to it … When I went to Capitol Hill, I was prepared. And God did the rest – He kept me calm and allowed me to speak with little fear.

 

 

See the dog? That’s Tank. He belongs to my awesome agility instructor, Ed Scharringhausen. Despite being very busy getting ready for an inaugural agility trial on Luke’s Field, Ed took the time to help me edit my speech … and to listen to me read it. When I was reading it to Ed, my friend Linda, and their dogs, Tank sensed my fear. He doesn’t really know me, but he knew I was really nervous. So, he got up and came across the room to sit right in front of me. He sat tall and straight for the entire speech. I petted him and relaxed some.

I mentioned that I wished he could go with me to Washington. Well, he obviously couldn’t go, so I took the next best thing. His picture. And he sat right there on the table beside my speech the entire time.

Looking out into the room on Capitol Hill before my speech

 

 

The speech went so much better than I could have ever, ever anticipated. All of the prayers worked! I had many people seek me out later. They told me that my speech made them cry, that they connected with me, that they didn’t know WHY I said I wasn’t a public speaker (if they only knew…)…

The fact is, my speech made me cry too. I just barely was able to tell the audience about Kiersten Dickson, my young friend who died at only 20 from lung cancer. It is a good thing I saved her story for the end. I hope at least one heart was touched enough by what I had to say to fight for more funding for medical research, especially for research benefiting those of us with lung cancer.

 

Washington, DC – The White House!!!

It seemed like every time I opened my email, I was surprised by something else exciting! I just grinned from ear to ear when I opened the email that said the AACR and the survivors attending the release of the 2015 Cancer Progress Report were invited to a meeting at the White House!! You have just got to be kidding me!

We rushed … and I do mean rushed … from Capitol Hill to the White House. It isn’t good to be late to a meeting at the White House. But we were.

There were long lines waiting to get through security to get into the building. The building that wasn’t white, I might add. I was very confused.

 

 

I thought maybe we had to pass through this building to get into the White House?? I kept saying, “But this building is not White!!” Well … our meeting with Obama’s Domestic Policy staff was technically NOT in the White House, I was disappointed to learn. We actually met in this gorgeous building – the Executive Offices, which are right next door to, but are not, the White House!

As I said, the lines were long. Full of people – important and self-important. They were not all that happy when our group was whisked in front of them! At least one of those standing in the heat waiting his turn to go through security was a governor of some state. I forget which one. I am sure he couldn’t understand why we got preferential treatment. I’m not quite sure why either, but we did!

Once we were through the three levels of security, we were finally on our way to our meeting.

The ceiling in the vestibule. All different. All gorgeous!

 

Long, shiny hallways. Notice the gold handrails on the stairs.  The young lady was one of those we met on the President’s Domestic Policy Staff.

The building was very quiet. Very uninhabited. I wasn’t sure how many pictures I could get by with taking so I didn’t take a lot. I didn’t want my camera confiscated! (As it turns out, I think it would have been fine to take as many as I wished. But, to say I was a little intimidated is an understatement!)

Our meeting was a good one. It was relatively small. AACR staff, Obama’s staffers, and cancer survivors – all beneficiaries of the latest and greatest cancer research.

 

Green “Appointment” tags for US citizens; pink for non-citizens. If your tag wasn’t green, you had to be escorted everywhere. Even with our green tags, we were escorted everywhere! I wore a pretty blue jacket, but it was warm in the Executive Offices! Conserving energy, I suppose.
The four women in the middle of the picture are members of Obama’s Domestic Policy Staff. They are young … smart and powerful. And as nice as could be.

 

AACR leaders.

Our meeting probably lasted 45 minutes or an hour. I honestly failed to look at my watch so couldn’t say for sure. I felt like the young women were willing to take as much time as needed for the meeting to be a success. I didn’t ask anyone from the AACR staff, but my guess is that they did feel it was a very successful meeting. Had I been one of them, I would have been very pleased. Obama’s staff was very interested in working with groups like the AACR to get medical research moving. That is good news for everyone, I think.

When we left, we were taken out a side door so that we could stand next to the White House. We were mostly all very excited by that!

The hallways go on and on … and they are beautiful. This is a very old building, but it is maintained perfectly.

 

 

The Presidential flag! Maybe I should have tried to peek into the office beside it!!

 

Here we are! Right beside the White House! (This picture was taken as we stepped out of the Executive Offices building)
Standing in the parking lot, we saw people coming and going to meetings at the actual White House! We had to keep moving out of the way because the visitors were dropped off at the canopied door.
I never saw soooooo many black Surburbans!! They were everywhere!!! Some other makes and models were represented, too, but they were all black!

 

 

Do you see it? The Presidential Seal? This is as close as I got to actually stepping into the White House!
The armored car.

I just cannot tell you how special this day was!! I would have never, ever, in my wildest dreams expected to speak on Capitol Hill, especially given my extreme fear of public speaking, or to go to the Executive Offices of the President.

Reception

There was still a reception and an awesome dinner. Both were just unbelievable. The reception was held in the Kennedy Caucus Room in one of the Senate buildings. The Senate buildings are much more beautiful than those for the House. There is lots of marble, gorgeous ceilings, the feeling of power. In the House buildings, I just felt like I was in old, but fairly well-maintained buildings. They were nothing special.

 

 

 

 

Many organizations took place in the Rally for Medical Research. Did it make a difference? I can only say, “I hope so.”

 

The AACR president, Dr. Marge Foti.

 

 

 

Many famous events took place in the Kennedy Caucus Room (before it was so-named!)

Let me tell you – the hors d’oeuvres served at this reception were delicious!!! I was speaking at lunchtime so failed to get any lunch. I was starving when we arrived at the reception. I was full when we left!! Coconut chicken, some kind of fresh salmon wrap, cheeses, chips and crackers, I can’t remember what all. There were a variety of wines and beers – all domestic, I heard – available as well as sparkling water and some soft drinks, I think.

I was getting tired at this point and didn’t get a bunch of pictures. Wish I had taken some of the food! So I could eat my heart out now! I wondered how people that attend many of these functions stay slim.

 

Dinner

We came back to the hotel at about 7:45 PM. I was dragging. We were given the opportunity to change clothes (and shoes … ahhhhhh! My feet were so happy to change into tennis shoes!!!) and rest just a moment before returning to dinner at 8:15.

I planned to stay at dinner no longer than absolutely necessary. But, that was before I ended up at the first table – the one with the heads of cancer clinics all over the US. I can’t remember all of their names and, unfortunately, never caught the last name of one who was so kind to me. Her name was Karen. She heads a cancer clinic in Philadelphia. Her specialty is prostate cancer. And, she is one of the kindest souls I have ever met. She made sure that I felt like a part of the group the entire dinner. When there was an “inside joke,” she made sure I understood it. She always explained who was talking and what their specialty was. I wish I knew her full name. I would love to send her a thank you card. For her compassion. For her humanity.

It was so very interesting sitting at that table and listening to top doctors discuss cancer and research. I was suddenly not tired at all. I didn’t get back to the room until after 11 PM.

The food was absolutely divine. The company and conversation even better. I was so on top of the world after this day that I couldn’t begin to fall asleep.

Which is probably a good thing, because I had to pack everything up so I could turn back the room the next morning!

Tribute to my Dad

It was in September of 1976 when my 48-year-old dad went for a routine physical, as required by his employer. No one thought anything of it. He was in great health, other than a painful knee that had arisen recently after a long drive from Washington, DC.

Life was great. He had a job that he thoroughly enjoyed and at which he excelled. Mom had recently gone to work at the same savings and loan where he worked. My brother was doing well in high school and I was married and had recently had a baby boy.

Imagine our surprise when he got a call from his doctor. The chest x-ray had some suspicious spots that needed further investigation. Dad had smoked cigarettes until I was a teen, but at Mom’s insistence, he had switched to a pipe many years previously. We didn’t think he was a prime lung cancer candidate, but the biopsy showed he not only had lung cancer, he had Stage IV lung cancer. He was given six months to live.

He had adenocarcinoma, like I do. It is a cancer that smokers get, but so do non-smokers. In fact, it is the most common type of lung cancer seen in non-smokers. Adenocarcinoma is found in the outer parts of the lung. According to Cancer.org, more women than men are diagnosed with this cancer. Furthermore, it is more likely to occur in young people than other cancers.

Cancer.org says that adenocarcinoma is a slow growing cancer and that it is more likely to be found before it spreads. Unfortunately, my experience refutes this statement. Just about everyone I know with adenocarcinoma of the lung was diagnosed with Stage 3 or 4.

Even though it has been nearly 40 years ago that we received the news that my dad was very sick, I still remember hearing the news. Needless to say, my mom and I were shocked and devastated. Dad was stoic. Then and for the rest of his life.

I hadn’t really thought all that much about my dad and his experience with lung cancer. I mean, the knowledge that he had the same kind of cancer I do comes to mind, but his actual fight against the beast hasn’t been something I have really dwelt upon. Until recently.

For some reason, I was thinking about my dad’s journey against lung cancer. His was much shorter than mine has been. Thankfully, I was able to get into the clinical trial for Opdivo when my cancer threatened to kill me. Dad wasn’t so lucky.

But, here’s what I remember about my dad’s fight. He was working in downtown Dallas. Because his leg hurt so badly, someone else was driving him to the office in the mornings. It turns out his leg hurt because his cancer had metastasized to the bone there. The doctor told us lung cancer commonly spreads to the bones – often to the knees or elbows. I always worried when I had a pain in one of my extremities after hearing that.

Because he was being driven to the office, Dad needed a ride to his treatments. Unlike in my case, he was able to get both radiation and chemotherapy. Also unlike in my case, no one went with him to his treatments. Never once did any of us accompany him to his chemo treatments or to his radiation sessions. Never once did it ever occur to us that we should (or not that I remember anyway). I would pick him up at his office and drop him by the hospital for his treatment. My mom would come pick him up when his treatment was over. We did that for months.

The radiation didn’t bother him much. But, that chemo sure did. It made him deathly ill. So much so that I called his doctor and asked him why in the world they continued to give him the drug when his prognosis was so awful. The doctor told me that Dad would hear of nothing else. If there was even the smallest chance he could recover, he wanted the treatments, no matter how sick they made him. Watching my dad suffer, I vowed that if I ever had cancer, I would do radiation, but I would not do chemotherapy. Amazing how we change our minds when we are actually faced with a life or death decision.

My dad went to work every day during the time he was in treatment. I do not know how he did it. I was talking to my mom about it tonight. She said, “Well, he didn’t do anything you didn’t do.” But, I think he did. I don’t know what drugs he was given, but I suspect they were harsher than the ones I got. Or, that the overall treatment plan was not as good. Surely oncologists have learned much in nearly 40 years.

Dad worked until 3 weeks before he died. I was lucky enough to get to retire on medical disability after I had fought my cancer for slightly over one year. That means I have had nearly 2 years of life without the obligation of going into the office.

I might be wrong since I was no longer living at home when Dad got sick, but I do not recall him ever missing a day of work. He got his treatments later in the day so he didn’t even miss those days. I didn’t know then what I know now. At least for me, I was deathly ill for several days after a chemo treatment. And, so exhausted that a simple walk was very, very difficult. Chemo brain is a real phenomenon as well. I often missed a day or so after a treatment. And, I generally left the office an hour or so early. And, the demands of my job were nowhere nearly as huge as his were. He was making multi-million dollar investment decisions.

I remember some of his coworkers being in awe over how he continued to work, despite his illness. I think he got a bit grouchier with them. I know he did at home. At least some of the time. I understand that now much better than I did then. He had to have been reaching into himself for reserves most people simply can’t access. It must have taken every single bit of his strength and willpower to go in to work every day and to actually be a productive employee. By the time he got home, it is no wonder that he could no longer restrain himself if something irritated him. He had to have been totally spent. Along with totally ill, much of the time.

My cancer is in both lungs and spread to lymph nodes near my collarbone. I have not ever had any pain associated with my cancer. Dad, on the other hand, had the bone metastases which were very, very painful. I can’t remember any longer whether he had radiation to those tumors on his knee and, if he did, whether or not the treatments worked to eradicate the pain.

When Dad was finally so weak that he could not go to the office any more, he was also so weak that he could barely leave their bedroom. My grandmother came to stay with him, while my mom, at his insistence, continued to work.

Soon before he died, he lamented to my mom how awful it was to be in the state he was in. He told her, “I can’t live and I can’t die.” It was frustrating to him. I can understand that. I don’t really want to be alive past the time that I can actually live. When I can’t go out and play with my dogs and go places with friends, etc., then, I hope God calls me on home.

Three days before he died, he received a visitor from the office. The president of the savings and loan where he worked dropped by with some investment questions. Amazingly, Dad was able to give good advice. I was over there later that night. I had tax questions. Dad, a CPA, had always completed our tax returns for us. Since he was so ill, I was preparing to do our return for the first time. Between bouts with him fading into unconsciousness, I asked him all of the questions I had for completing the return. We were audited that year. His advice all held up.

The night he died, nearly 6 months to do the day of being diagnosed, he was still lucid enough to know that touching my mom’s hair was taboo. He accidentally brushed against it that night. And apologized. Amazing. My mom also heard him answering questions that he was being asked by God. Scoff if you like. Or say he was hallucinating. This man believed strongly in God and in Jesus Christ as his Savior. I have no doubt but that he was standing in God’s presence when Mom heard him answering. That has always been somewhat comforting to us. That he was in God’s presence. Even though the answers my mom heard him give were along the lines of, “I don’t know.”

I wasn’t ever particularly close to my dad after I was about six. He was blessed with a son about that time and he sort of forgot he had a daughter. He was very, VERY partial to his son. And didn’t try to cover it up. Maybe that is the reason why I never really sat and thought about all that Dad went through and what a courageous man he was the last six months of his life. No matter what his and my relationship was, I have to say, I have not seen many who have lived and died with the dignity he did.

 

A Grateful Heart

It seems strange to be fighting Stage IV lung cancer and still talking about being grateful. But, grateful I am. For so very, very much.

Faith

First and foremost, I am grateful for my faith. Without the knowledge and belief that there was something more, something that comes after this life, I think I would be bereft. Instead, I believe this earth is temporary for us all (a belief all should hold since surely no one disputes that we all die at one point). Heaven is our reward. It is our final home. Imagine the moment in your life when you have felt the most loved and content … now imagine living like that forevermore.

I don’t want to die. I’m not ready to leave my family and my beloved dogs behind. But, when I go, I am going somewhere far superior to here!

 

Family

I am blessed. My family is small, but we all love one another. We don’t get to see our grandchildren any longer, so there are just my mom (who at 85.5 years still plays bridge several times every single week), my brother, my husband, and my son in my immediate family. I also am blessed to have some cousins that I am close to and whose company I enjoy immensely. I think my cancer has brought us closer. It has certainly encouraged us to make the effort to get together. We might not have otherwise actually followed through and done so.

I consider Cotton and Barney a very vital part of my family. They bring me great joy every single day.

 

 

 

Friends

I can be sad, sometimes, because I feel like people I considered friends before I was diagnosed have moved on and left me behind. They remember me on occasion, but mostly, I am in their past. That hurts. But, it makes sense. I would be guilty of doing the same. We can’t be expected to quit living our own lives because someone among us can no longer keep up. But, when you are the someone who can’t keep up, it causes pain. I try to distance myself from Facebook most of the time so that I am less aware of all that is going on that I am no longer included in.

On the plus side, I have made some of the most awesome friends ever since I was diagnosed. I would not have become friends with some of the people if not for the cancer. Some new friends are others who are in this club that no one wants to join. No one except someone else who is fighting cancer can fully understand what it is like. I’m not sure that even someone else with cancer truly understands what a colleague is going through. For instance, I don’t understand people that wallow in self-pity and that concentrate on the problems they face rather than looking at the positives. They are so miserable and unhappy. In my own opinion, they are letting cancer win the battle while they still have life.

It is highly, HIGHLY likely that I will ultimately die from my cancer. (Hopefully, it won’t be real soon.) But, right now, I am alive. I feel pretty darn good. I don’t have the stamina that I probably would if I wasn’t in this fight for my life, but I have a lot of willpower. Where my stamina lets me down, my willpower often takes over. Cancer teaches you, if you will let it, to enjoy every single moment. A flower takes on new beauty. A fragrance is breathed more deeply. The wonders of God (the sky, the mountains, trees, babies… the list is endless) are so very precious and magnificent and appreciated in ways that they never were before. The joy of being with friends (two and four legged) is that much greater because you appreciate that these times may be limited.

 

 

 

Life is different now than it was before I was diagnosed with cancer. There’s an innocence that is lost when you get that diagnosis. You learn you are a whole lot more vulnerable than you realized. It doesn’t just happen to others. Nope, it can and it did happen to you.

But, if I were asked to honestly respond with whether I would change anything about my existence, I think I would say “no.” I have learned so very much about myself and about others on this journey. I don’t think I would trade that.

I learned that I am strong. Much stronger than I ever imagined.
I learned that I am resilient. I can withstand a hard knock.
I learned that happiness comes from within. We spend way too much time looking for happiness in all of the wrong places.
I learned that there are some really fabulous people in this world. And I am blessed to have some of them in my life.
I learned that some people are acquaintances that I enjoy but that I can’t count on. This has been a really hard and painful lesson.
I learned that a kind word, a phone call, a card, any simple gesture can make a day. And, I hope I have learned to be more generous with those gestures myself.

 

HOPE

I just got back from New Mexico where my husband and I went to visit our son. I drove 2,158 miles from Friday to Thursday. I’m a little tired now … having trouble recouping from a busy, busy week!

But, I can do this!! And I am proud that I can!

It is so funny. While we were in New Mexico, I had a burning desire to write a blog. I had several in mind that I couldn’t wait to get onto paper.

Here I am now. Sitting at the computer. Trying my hardest to remember even one of the ideas I had. All I can remember right now is that they were really good ideas!

Ugh!!!

New Mexico

I love to go to New Mexico. Where our son lives, it is very majestic. It is also very dirty. Dirt is everywhere. There is barely any grass or anything. Just dirt. Everywhere!

Taken from the parking lot of our hotel in Las Cruces. Beautiful.

 

A park in or near Cruces.

 

At the Valley of Fire

Darn it all! The pictures make it appear that there IS grass. Maybe you just have to trust me … there is NOT! I didn’t think about taking pictures of the desert. I spent more time taking closeups of flowers that I found. Hopefully, next time, I will remember to take some pictures that show how desolate and how much dirt there is. Everywhere.

 

These were taken on a little dirt road off of I25 and beside Denny’s. My son asked me to never go here again. Apparently homeless gather nearby and there have been several murders. Oops.

I imagine by now anyone who has read my blog knows that I love to take pictures of flowers. I found some beautiful ones out in the desert. It meant a lot to me to find them. I am a big believer in HOPE. The flowers that manage to grow in these dire conditions – heat (it was over 100 every day we were there), drought, sand – give me hope. Because despite dreadful odds, they thrive!

 

Purple cactus. Isn’t it beautiful?? I’ve never seen anything like it! According to Wikipedia, the color results from stress due to  drought or cold. Trust me! It wasn’t cold!!!
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opuntia_macrocentra

 

 

Whatever this tree is, it is blooming. (See above for closeup of bloom)

 

Pecan trees are thriving here. There are orchards and orchards of them in New Mexico.

I took pictures of both native plants and those that were growing at our hotel in Las Cruces. Here are some of the pictures of the plants at the Staybridge Suites where we stayed one night (GREAT room for a really good price). We arrived there from Dallas at about 1 AM. I discovered how pretty it was the next morning (or, actually, later that same morning!) when I woke up! Majestic; looking out and seeing the mountains in the distance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flowers were flourishing, despite the intense heat. I was pretty surprised at how beautiful they were.
But, there were others that were thriving without any help from man. I took the pictures below in Elephant Butte/Truth or Consequences or Valley of Fire.
This is technically probably not a wild plant. It was planted in the parking lot of the Comfort Inn and Suites where we stayed in Truth or Consequences. I took LOTS of pictures of it because I love to capture bees.

 

Soon, there will be sunflowers here!!! I think sunflowers are happy flowers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cone flower!!! Just growing out in the desert!

 

 

Birds liked this plant with its berries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some from Valley of Fire. There weren’t many where we were. If we had gotten to go on the hike, we doubtless would have come across more, as well as lizards and other wildlife. As it was, the most I saw were some birds and butterflies … and grasshoppers. And a bee/wasp or two.

 

You can’t tell by the photo, but this was huge! It was really pretty!

 

The bees or wasps sure liked this little flower.

 

 

 

 

A butterfly on this prickly cactus! You would think it would get stuck by the needles!

 

New Mexico has some awesome scenery. As I drove through it, I had to wonder how someone can look at those majestic, mighty mountains and not believe in God. What a creator He is!
One geologic wonder is Valley of the Fires in Carrizozo, New Mexico. As you are driving through the desert on US Highway 380, you suddenly look around and notice a lot of black rock that looks like lava. At first, you think you must be seeing things. But, soon, you are in a huge field of what just has to be lava.
The trail is visible behind the rocks.

 

 

 

It is incredible!!! You drive for a few miles and the black molten rock is all around you. But, just as quickly as you entered it, it ends. It is really something! I’ve been there three times and I remain amazed!

According to the BLM:

Approximately 5,000 years ago, Little Black Peak erupted and flowed 44 miles into the Tularosa Basin, filling the basin with molten rock. The resulting lava flow is four to six miles wide, 160 feet thick and covers 125 square miles. The lava flow is considered to be one of the youngest lava flows in the continental United States. http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/recreation/roswell/valley_of_fires.html

If you are interested in learning more, I think this link might be one of the better ones:
https://geoinfo.nmt.edu/tour/landmarks/carrizozo/home.html

If you have a chance to go, visit New Mexico! It is a beautiful land. It is a very impoverished land, as well. However, I saw evidence of HOPE throughout my visit. Whether it was from children growing up in an RV park, living in a tiny travel trailer, but smiling and having a blast or a flower growing out of rock, there was joy, there was hope. Cancer feels real small when you’re standing before a gigantic mountain.