Still Living with Cancer!

I haven’t updated my blog in a long time. How does that help provide hope? It doesn’t  … so here i am, hopefully able to provide hope to any of you who have been diagnosed with lung cancer or who have loved ones who have been diagnosed.

I was first diagnosed in October 2012. I have passed the critical one year milestone and will see the 3 year mark, God willing, in just a few more months. Trust me, i thank my Lord every single day for my life. So very many don’t make it even a Year.

I love being alive and on this earth. Here to enjoy my family, friends, and dogs. But, God is good whether He decides to leave me here on earth or bring me home to Him. Talk about a win-win situation! i just can’t lose!

While i am here, i try hard to live every day to the fullest. Fortunately,  i feel good, thanks to the immunotherapy i receive every two weeks. Barring bad news from the CT scans i had today, my tumors have remained stable since i began my immunotherapy clinical trial in 7/2013. Praise God!

So, what does living look like For this stage IV lung cancer survivor?

Dogs, dogs, dogs!

My dogs continue to dominate my life. They bring me such joy and give me so many reasons to want to live.

It is funny to post a snow picture since it is nearly 80 outside on this late March day. But, those two lovers of life get such joy out of the very limited snow we get here in Texas. Cotton also gets great joy in rolling in coyote poop. You can see how nicely she decorated herself in this picture!

The dogs and i meet our friends Linda and Louie (her precious Pom/Eskie mix) nearly every day to walk. We used to walk at least 3 miles every day. Lately,  we have cut that down to around two miles because we come back to a field to practice obedience/agility skills.
Linda and I are fortunate enough to be taking agility lessons with Ed Scharringhausen at Run As One Agility. I have taken lots of classes over the last 6 years. Our classes with Ed make all others pale in comparison. We practice the skills he teaches us all week so that our dogs will be ready to move on when we return to class.
We also take classes with Pam White. Like Ed, she will analyze our runs from trials and is working hard with us to teach us distance and obedience skills. We are so fortunate to have two teachers who put so much into us and our dogs.
So, what’s this agility about which I speak so fondly?
This is Barney and me running a jumpers agility course. The handler directs their dog around a numbered course. Speed and accuracy are required.
Here is another run from the March 2015 Run As One trial:
Here, the dog must navigate a number of different obstacles. Barney and I LOVE to play agility.  As you can see, it takes a great deal of energy.
I have not been able to participate in lessons or trials like i did before i was diagnosed. My stamina is not as good and my pocketbook is much slimmer than it was. However, with the current 2 classes a week and, hopefully,  at least a trial a month, we are coming back!
Cotton doesn’t play agility as much. She’s an awesome agility dog, but she doesn’t always care to participate. Like all sports, it is somewhat expensive. Since my funds are now so limited, i mostly train and trial with Barney, my boy who loves to please and loves to play agility.
As you watch the videos, remember it is a stage IV lung cancer survivor running those courses. Awesome, huh?
Just for fun, i will post a video of Cotton from the December  2014 trial. First, you will see Barney run the course as designed and then you will see Cotton.
Hmmm, the formatting just went south…
Here we go! Formatting restored!

Other Interests

My favorite thing to do is spend time with my dogs and friends who also love dogs. But, especially as the weather warms, i also enjoy container gadening, watching the birds, and photography.

 

 

For the first time, i am trying herb gardening. I love my 3-tiered pot. Just bought two more from Amazon … one for mom and another for me. I am going to put some tomatoes and strawberries in the new pot. Not sure what else… i can’t wait to see how it goes! Fresh tomatoes and strawberries sounds heavenly though, huh?
I haven’t taken many pictures lately nor have i had time to really spend watching my birds. Soon, the hummers will be back … can’t wait!! Will have to find some time to enjoy these activities.
It is also nearly bluebonnet time here in Texas. I LOVE the bluebonnets. I combine 3 loves during the month or so they are out: my dogs, flowers, and photography!  Here’s an example from last year:
Well, Robert is hungry. I need to end this and get him something to eat.
Here’s my final thought : if you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, even late stage lung cancer, do not give up! There is still life to be had. Grab it with gusto!

Living with Lung Cancer

I will never forget learning i had lung cancer or the reaction of my primary care doctor. She felt just horrible that she discovered i had stage IV lung cancer on my very first visit to see her. I have the complete opposite reaction. I praise God for her every day. I would be dead today if she had not noticed that tiny knot on my collarbone.

Dr. Casey held our hands tightly through those early days of battling the cancer. She requested that we come to report to her after every visit with the oncologist. I remember like yesterday sitting in her office and relaying what Dr Wilfong, my first oncologist, had told us. She asked if Robert and/or I needed sleeping pills or anti-depressants and was amazed when we said no. Not then, not ever have we felt the need for drugs to help us face the diagnosis.

From the beginning, we have accepted the diagnosis, gone for treatments,  and continued on with life. Thankfully, my general good health has allowed us to live pretty normal lives most of the time.

I was at my oncologist’s office yesterday. With every treatment,  i have blood tests, a doctor’s visit, and the immunotherapy infusion. I have had a cough since around Thanksgiving which is driving Robert and me crazy. It was preceded by an unexplained (despite a multitude of tests) fever. Anyway, Dr Gerber was wanting to know how significant the cough is and how affected by it I am.

I told him it didn’t prevent my playing agility all of last weekend. He wasn’t quite sure what i was talking about so i showed him the following videos.

 

My dogs and i love the sport of agility so much! I am sure it is apparent from the videos. How many Stage IV lung cancer patients are out running agility courses? I don’t know, but i am beyond thankful that i am able.

Additionally, the dogs and i meet my friend Linda Lelak nearly every day and walk from 2 to 3 miles. The dogs love it and it is good for us! I am grateful for Linda and her Louie. If not for meeting them every day, i probably wouldn’t make myself walk on a regular basis.

I meet my friend Anna every week for lunch and, if there’s anything worth watching, a movie. I love having friends and the time to get together! I spent nearly my whole life so involved with working that i didn’t take time for friends.

The whole purpose of this post is to point out that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean that you have to quit living. I know through a support network that i particpate on that too many people become captives to their disease and their fears of germs.

If i let it make me a prisoner, then i might as well just give up and let it take its course. I have cancer. Cancer doesn’t have me.

Blessings

You have to look for your blessings where you can … and I know you guys will think I am weird, but this lung cancer made it possible for me to retire. I can’t even tell you how wonderful it is not to have to go to work any longer. I have had to work one or two jobs since I turned 20. I am loving every second of not having to do that any longer!

Another HUGE blessing is that the treatment I am on (clinical trial for immunotherapy drug) is wonderful. Here I am … Stage IV non-small-cell lung cancer patient … nearly 1-1/2 years after diagnosis … still doing fantastic!!! The tumors are still there, but they are just sitting in the same spot as they were when we discovered them. They haven’t grown or multiplied or spread. Hallelujah and Praise God!

The immunotherapy is the best thing since sliced bread. It doesn’t make you sick or tired and before I started getting it I was sick and tired of being sick and tired!! The hardest part of getting it is spending a long half day at the hospital getting an infusion every two weeks. Lucky me and lucky cancer patients everywhere … the company is or will soon be seeking FDA approval. From what I know, none of the patients who are participating at the clinic where I go has had terribly adverse side effects and I think everyone is doing quite well in the fight against their cancer.

I am so glad that I found UT Southwestern. Some people told me that they felt like it was a huge and cold institution that didn’t care about patients except as numbers in science experiments. Well, that’s far from true. The girls behind the desk know you, the aides who take you from place to place know you, the nurses, physician’s assistants, researchers, and doctors all know you as a person. I always feel like I am seeing friends when I go. Which is a good thing since treatments occur every two weeks.

My life is so full. Every single day is packed with things that I love to do. In the past, my days were full, but they were full of work-type activities. I worked at my 8-5 job and then I came home and took care of SchoolGrants, the business that God blessed me with since 1999. I let it go a couple of years ago and that was quite a liberating feeling! It still is. It was my passion for a long, long time but I burned myself completely out.

Once you receive a cancer diagnosis, I don’t think the fact that you have cancer (or had cancer if you are fortunate enough to beat it) ever leaves your mind. I never go through a day that I do not remember quite well that I have cancer. It impacts my thought processes. On the other hand, some days I can’t believe the diagnosis is correct. How can I be so sick when I’m so healthy??!!!

Which brings to mind more praises! Week after week, month after month, my blood tests come back perfect. We do thorough blood analyses before every single treatment and every time, my tests are perfect. My doctor is amazed. He said that less than 1% of cancer patients are as fortunate. It isn’t just my blood tests that come back perfect, so do my blood pressure, oxygen, and temperature readings! How can I not call myself lucky? LUCKY!! or, more appropriately, BLESSED. Totally.

Here’s another way I am blessed. Insurance. Oh my gosh. Fighting cancer is expensive. Ridiculously so. What do people who don’t have insurance do? I really don’t know. I’m glad I don’t have to find out.

I have been on some cancer sites lately that are sort of like support groups or something. I have never felt the need for a support group but I like to go to these online groups and offer support to those just learning they have cancer. I want them to know that a horrible diagnosis that scares the living daylights out of you may truly not be the end of the world at all.

Those people who get the diagnosis and decide right away that they’ll just go with palliative care distress me. No one thought I had a lot of time left but I was determined to make the best of what time I did have. My life has slowly evolved to something that it wasn’t when I was diagnosed. For instance, I do not participate in all of the same events, like agility training and competing, that I was consumed with prior to learning I was battling lung cancer. But my life is full. Every single minute of it! I am as happy as can be. Each day ends with me thinking that I needed more hours to get everything done that I wanted to get done that day. Amazing.

Those who just give up are missing out on so much. None of us have tomorrow promised to us, so we should all appreciate each and every hour that we are given. I just wish that those who choose not to fight their cancer would reconsider. At least I wish they would try to get into a test study so that the doctors can research the effects of more treatments. It might or might not help them but it surely might help someone else down the road. I’ve never been a hand-wringer. I don’t guess I understand  those who are.

Well, I planned to post a lot of pictures here and discuss some of my recent activities, but I’m really beat. Today was treatment day and it was a long day. I’ll come back before too long and post some lovely pictures I’ve had the opportunity to capture over the last few weeks and months.

Until then, take care and thank God for another day!

I’ll leave you with two of my most favorite blessings:

My lovely Cotton. She’s doing some birdwatching here. I’ll be posting pictures from our bird watching in the near future.

Barney. My heart and soul. 

Happy Birthday, Barney Boy!

Four years ago today, my little Sheltie made his way into this world. A little less than seven weeks later, he came home to live with Robert, Cotton, and me. He is my heart and soul!

 

 

Cotton was a big white fluffy puppy – just gorgeous. Don’t shoot me, but I personally don’t think Sheltie pups are some of the cutest around. They are a breed, in my own opinion, that are much more gorgeous after they become adults. All pups are cute, but Barney and other Shelties are not beautiful as puppies. In my opinion!

My mother came over shortly after I got Barney. By that time, his little looks had grown on me and I was thinking he was cuter than I did initially. His sweet, silly personality made you love and adore him and see a different puppy.

Mom, on the other hand, rounded the corner and saw him for the first time. She immediately declared that he was the ugliest little puppy she believed she’d ever seen. Poor little Barney! She was expecting a big fluffy ball of fur like Cotton, an American Eskimo Dog, was.

I saw a picture of Barney from his puppy days on Facebook this morning. I hope I can find it to post here because the poor boy was really gangly! The angle of the camera doesn’t help! Little Man looks like he’s all head and only a little bitty body! I just want to grab that little puppy up and give him a big hug now!!! A lot of my friends have new pups this year. Seeing them hasn’t really made me want a puppy all that badly. Seeing pictures of my own Barney Boy from a few years back, though, is really giving me puppy fever!!! And lots of big, big smiles!

Barney has been through so much with me. I had only had him for three weeks when we learned that our three grandkids, aged 10 months, 3 years, and 8 years at that time, were coming to live with us. CPS had removed them from their home and, at least at first, it seemed Robert and I were going to become parents again until the kids were full grown. I only had one child when I was young … getting three all of a sudden and under such circumstances was traumatic, to say the least. Poor little Barney didn’t get nearly as much attention as he would have under different conditions.

Well, that’s not entirely true. He got attention from the kids and from me … but it was different attention than I envisioned when I got him. The good news is that he loves kids, especially the three grandsons, unequivocally. I’m sure that growing up with the kids influenced that love greatly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But we missed some early training opportunities that I see my friends offer to their young pups. I’m not sure it really stunted him much though. He’s well-behaved and a fine little agility dog.

The kids lived with us for 5-1/2 months before the judge allowed them to go back home. So much of my time and effort was focused on taking care of them that I feel like I missed Barney’s puppyhood. I barely remember it. Those months are a daze in so many ways!

As soon as the kids got to go back home, Barney and I threw ourselves into training. Little Man was fabulous. If you asked it of him, he gave it. He still does. What a dog!

We started training every chance we got. We went out to the DAWG (Dallas Agility Working Group) field twice a week and one time a week, Barney was in pre-agility and then beginner agility classes. We both love agility and spending the time together. Cotton was along for the DAWG training. She loves agility, too. Sometimes. When it suits her!

As soon as he turned 18 months, Barney started competing in several different agility venues: USDAA, ASCA, and NADAC. We were gone nearly every weekend and, no matter the venue, the little guy turned in a stunning performance. He qualified in nearly every run he ran. We had so much fun. So.Much.Fun! We added AKC to our list of venues because there were a few weekends when we couldn’t compete in our favored venues. Addicted to agility! That was me, for sure. And Barney loved every minute of it, too!

 

 

 

Then, in October 2012, the bottom fell out of my world. Forget the fact that I was competing in agility every weekend and going to class, by then, four times a week. Forget that I was happier and in better shape than I can remember being (other than being slightly overweight from having quit smoking and going through menopause without the benefits of hormone treatments). Cancer didn’t care.

Barney, Cotton and I continued to go to class and trials while I underwent all sorts of tests and we waited to hear the final diagnosis. We even continued to go to class and trials after the word came that I had Stage IV lung cancer. But, once I started chemo, all bets were off.

I didn’t have the stamina to go to class at night after working all day even when I wasn’t sick, deathly sick, from the chemo treatments. If I wasn’t nauseous, I was still so exhausted that asking my legs to carry me very short distances (like from the 15 feet or so from the couch to the refrigerator) was an accomplishment. As badly as I wanted to keep playing, it was physically and mentally impossible.

Well, nearly. Ed Scharringhausen holds Run As One NADAC agility trials in this area once a month except during the hottest months of the summer. He and his other half, Cathy, are as supportive of me and the challenges I face with this disease as any two people I know have been. Despite not going to class, Barney and I have managed to go, at least for a few hours, to quite a few Run as One trials since I was diagnosed with cancer. And little Barney just keeps on keeping on! We’ve reached a point on one of the events, Chances, where the dog has to work a great distance from you, that we are not going to qualify without more training. Otherwise, though, Barney is at least as likely to earn a qualifying score as not. He gives his all each and every time we step to the line.

But, Barney is more, so much more, than just my little agility teammate. I’ve posted this picture a time or two before, but in my mind’s eye, it is how I see my little boy much of the time. I was so sick after one of my first chemo treatments. My boy was right there with me … he has never before or since been so willing to stay with me (on me) for so long as he was during the time that I was the absolute sickest … such a comforter!!!

I dearly love my Cotton Girl. One of these days, I’ll give her a post! To go on and on about Barney doesn’t diminish how much I adore Cotton, but she’s a totally different dog than Barney. Barney is my caregiver and my little shadow. My sensitive, loving little man. I am, every single solitary day, so very grateful that Mr. Barney was brought into this world on February 7, 2010 and that he came home with me a few weeks later!

Happy birthday, Little Man!!! I hope we get to share many, many, MANY more together!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is World Cancer Day

Did you see the Super Bowl Commercial that Chevrolet ran? They will donate $1 to the American Cancer Society for every person who goes purple on Facebook or Twitter today. Do it, please!!! It will only take a moment of your time and your dollar combined with those of thousands of others can really make a difference. http://www.chevrolet.com/purple-roads-world-cancer-day.html

The Chevy commercial really touched me. This woman is facing a cancer diagnosis … and her husband is sharing in the pain. There are lots of diagnoses that would be heartbreaking to receive. The one I identify with is cancer. I think I will never forget the moment I learned I had lung cancer.

I was fairly certain by that point that I had cancer, though no one but me had ever uttered such a word in connection with the tests I was having. I was so hopeful that it would be nearly any kind of cancer but lung cancer. My dad died of lung cancer only six months of being diagnosed, despite a valiant effort to fight it. The stats for surviving lung cancer are just not good.

Of course, anyone who knows me or who follows this blog knows I didn’t get my wish granted. I not only had lung cancer, I had Stage IV lung cancer that was inoperable. Radiation also wasn’t an option. Chemotherapy was the only hope I was given. And the doctor wasn’t all that confident it would prolong my life appreciably.

How do you describe the emotions you go through when you learn that your life may be nearly over? Just when life was kind of coming together. I was so involved. I had so many more friends and activities to pursue than I had for most of my adult life. I was having fun … no … F-U-N!!! Literally, the time of my life!

Cancer wasn’t in the plans. At all. I had quit smoking five or six years previously. I was physically active. I ate decent. Cancer was for someone else, not me.

Things move quickly after you’re diagnosed with cancer. You face it bravely, but you’re still scared. And once you get that diagnosis, the fact that you have cancer sort of defines who you are from then on. Or, that’s the case with me. It never leaves the forefront of my mind that I have cancer. I don’t mean to say that it especially limits what I do because I try hard to make sure that isn’t the case, but I still never really forget that I am in the fight of my life against a mighty foe. And I never forget that God is Good and He is Powerful. And by His grace, I’m still here and I still feel good and I am still able to do a whole lot of what I was able to do prior to that terrible day that I learned I had lung cancer.

When I watch the commercial, I imagine that the woman has learned recently that she has cancer. Maybe they are on their way to her first treatment or to tell her parents or kids that she’s received a deadly diagnosis. So many difficult moments accompany the news that you have become a cancer statistic. You have to figure out the new road you’re going to walk whether you want to or not … and you wonder just exactly what it is going to entail. Talk about fear of the unknown!!

Is it going to hurt? Will I be deathly ill for my remaining days on this earth? What’s going to happen to my family, to my dogs? Will my friends disappear? Will people be too uncomfortable to be around me? Will I be too uncomfortable to be around them? Will I lose my hair? Will I become a skeleton? What’s it going to be like to face a deadly opponent? What does chemo feel like?

Here are some answers to those questions:

  1. Lung cancer doesn’t hurt. That’s a problem with it. You have no clue you have it until it is so far gone that your chances of survival are greatly diminished.
  2. Some of your friends do fall by the wayside, but others are right there for you every step of the way. You mourn the ones you “lost” and celebrate the ones who are strong enough and care enough to stick around.
  3. I was lucky! My hair got thinner, but I didn’t lose it. I purchased a wig and hats and all of the rest but by God’s grace, I didn’t have to use them. I’m really happy I didn’t lose my hair – that would have been difficult. But it surely wouldn’t have been the end of the world. I see some women who wear their bald heads with such pride … my heart just swells with love when I see it.
  4. I surely didn’t become a skeleton. It never has seemed fair that I can go through chemo treatment after chemo treatment and still be bigger than ever before. But, I’d rather be a little chubby than way too thin. I don’t look sick and I don’t feel sick.
  5. Chemo doesn’t hurt or burn or anything. It is boring … the first treatments I got took 3-4 hours to administer. The ones I get now drip for an hour. Ho-hum. The after-effects can be awful though. I can’t describe the fatigue or the nausea that accompanied my first chemo treatments. I think you have to experience them to understand them. I’ve tried to face this battle with good humor, but I have to say that I was starting to get quite depressed when I was on the first two courses of treatment. You would have chemo, be sick-sick-sick, and finally start to feel better just about the same time as it was time to go again for another treatment.

Every single day when I wake up, I praise God that I’m still here! I still feel good. I can still enjoy the activities I did before I was diagnosed with cancer.

Below is a video that was shot yesterday of my Sheltie, Barney, and I trying our luck at a NADAC Chances run. We did not earn a qualifying score (LOL, to say the least!!!), but we WERE successful! We were outside together with friends and we had a ton of fun. A far cry from the video above where the woman is looking out the window with so many fears and so much sadness.

 

I am fully aware that any day my cancer may take off and kill me quickly. I think that knowledge makes me enjoy each and every day far more than I would if my body hadn’t been invaded by “evil cells.” I try hard not to sweat the small stuff … or even the big stuff.
On the other hand, I tend NOT to make plans for too far into the future. There’s a Gaither concert over the Memorial Day weekend that I would love to attend in Tennessee but I have been hesitant to get tickets … it is a lot of money to spend if it turns out I am no longer able to make a trip like that.
Here’s the thing, though. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. Car wrecks, heart attacks, the flu … none of us know what tomorrow holds for us. A cancer diagnosis might make that fact a little more real, but ALL of us should live life as if tomorrow may not come. Be happy. Be strong. Live!

2014 – Here We Come – Ready or Not!!!

Wow! 2014!! Where have the years gone? They speed by quicker and quicker! It is already the middle of January and it seems like it was only yesterday that we celebrated Christmas!

Retired!

The biggest news for 2014 (so far) is that, as of 1/1/2014, I am retired!!! I never, ever thought I would see the day! I mentioned in an earlier post that there were some advantages to having stage IV lung cancer. I know most of you think I’m crazy (maybe so!!!), but if I didn’t have cancer, I would still be working. For quite a few more years… Instead, I am getting to enjoy me time now while I can still enjoy it. The downside is that we have to go to treatments every two weeks, but the upside is that the treatment is working so I can enjoy being retired! 🙂

I am not sure that it has really sunk in that I don’t have to go to work on this coming Monday. Vacation isn’t going to end in another week! What a liberating feeling. Especially after being pretty miserable for the last few years at my job.

My challenge is going to be keeping myself from getting completely lazy. There have been a few days when I woke up and decided to just go back to sleep since I didn’t have anything I really wanted to do. Don’t get me wrong. There is PLENTY to do around here!! Plenty! It’s a matter of “wanna” … and I haven’t had the wanna to get into my closet or the study and tackle the mess that each place holds. Maybe next week.

Before I retired, I envisioned myself spending lots of hours playing with my dogs – mostly hiking and having a great time enjoying the outdoors. Maybe it will still happen. It just so happens that last week was mostly really cold and sort of dreary … my mood reflected the weather, for sure.

I thought I would be out and about with my camera – taking pictures of flowers, birds, insects, squirrels … whatever I could find basically. Again, I hope it was the weather that stymied those plans.

I haven’t had the luxury of not working since I was about 20 years old. Lots of my life was spent working full time, much of the time working full-time as an employee and running my own business. For several years, I added full-time student to the mix … those were interesting times!!! Thinking back on them STILL makes me tired 🙂 Always, there was wife and mom in the equation … and I always tried to be supermom and superwife … Yeah, like I said, looking back on those days makes me tired! And grateful they are in the past!

I guess it will take a little while to decide how to approach retirement. The idea of not having to do anything (except go to chemo every 2 weeks) is almost overwhelming. But, in a mostly good way!

RV

Robert and I have talked seriously about buying an RV and traveling around our great country. Since I’ve always had to work, we haven’t done much traveling. I know a lot of people work and still manage to travel, but I always found that trips were tiring and I chose to use my vacation time to rest and recuperate. So, now that work is no longer an issue, we have really considered purchasing a home on wheels and beginning to explore the United States. Robert wants to be in Arizona when the professional baseball teams are in spring training. And, we (mostly me) have thought it might be fun to travel all around to different agility trials.

Well, we went to a big RV show in Fort Worth this week. I had looked forward to that show for months. I left so confused. I thought I wanted an RV that you drive – so the dogs would have more room as we traveled from place to place. Plus, I thought it would be easier to drive a vehicle that is all one piece!

We looked at so many recreational vehicles it would make your head spin (and your legs feel like they were about to drop off). And, I was left wondering if maybe a fifth wheel RV wouldn’t be the better choice. Huh? Where did that come from?! I hadn’t entertained that thought AT ALL until walking around the show.

Then there is that part of me that wonders if we want an RV at all. They are expensive in every way: to purchase, to drive, to park, and to store. Some of the RV parks that I looked at cost more per night to use than a La Quinta or similar hotel. Maybe we should just buy a nice SUV and drive that across the country and stay at hotels and cabins, etc. along the way. It would be far more economical.

Or shoot. Maybe we should just purchase a lakehouse and forget about traveling. A home on the lake with property where the dogs can run and play sounds pretty relaxing. I’ve gone this long without really seeing America. Is it really all that important that I start now?

So, there you have it! Conundrum!

But, as I sit and reflect on all of the questions and decisions that await us, I am amazed again that I am here and that these questions and decisions are even there to be made! I say it pretty often and it is because I truly believe it – I am so, so, so very lucky. And blessed. A lot of lung cancer patients WISH they could be more concerned with these kinds of questions and a whole lot less concerned with how the chemo makes them feel and what can be done to stop their tumors from spreading and slowly taking over their bodies and killing them.

I remain fully aware that the day may come when the drug I am on quits working. And my tumors will no longer remain dormant. At any time, the cancer may decide it has sat for long enough without movement and spread through my body in weeks or months. Life is not certain. But, the truth is, life is not certain for any of us. Not at all. And each of us should probably strive to keep that thought in the forefront of our minds. It might help us quit sweating the small stuff.

A Year Later

I had chemo yesterday. Today I cleaned house … or started. It has really gotten terrible in the year since I was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Even on weekends when I felt like cleaning, I was too busy. Getting that unreal news changed my way of doing things. I fill every spare moment with activity – fun activity!! Cleaning house does not qualify! 🙂

This was me a year ago (early January 2013):

I believe I had just had my second chemo treatment when this picture was taken. I was very, very sick. So sick that I sometimes wondered if “the cure” was worth it. It was because I would feel just awful for several days and then I would have two weeks or so where I felt pretty darn good (not overly energetic, but certainly good enough to be glad I was alive!).

While I was pushing the steam cleaner today for the first time since I learned I had cancer, I marveled at what a difference a year can make. Now, I have rarely let this disease really get the best of me, but how I feel today compared to how I felt when the picture above was taken has no similarity! Thank you, Jesus, for that!! Literally.

The following picture was taken of my little Barney dog and me at the Run as One agility trial last weekend. I had already participated in several runs (Cotton went with us on Sunday and she participated in two events; Barney in three … all five runs took place within a 4-hour time span) when it was taken.

A lot of people have no clue what I’m referencing when I talk about agility. The YouTube videos here were taken several months ago. I don’t have any videos from the last few trials. Nevertheless, these let you see what agility even is … and perhaps give you a new appreciation for the fact that I ran six runs on Saturday with Barney (and worked the ring throughout the day as well) and came back on Sunday for the five additional runs.

Anyway, if you had told me in January when that first photograph above was taken that I would be running in agility trials a year later, I would have humored you and said I hoped so, but I truly wouldn’t have actually believed it. I watched my dad die of lung cancer in only 6 months after diagnosis … a common fate for those with late-stage lung cancer. Why should mine be different?

I surely do not have the answer to WHY my fate has been different, but I praise God that it has been. It isn’t that I am afraid to die – I am not – and I sometimes even wonder why I don’t wish to rush it – Heaven is … well … Heaven!!! It is going to be so much better than life on earth. Nevertheless, I’m human and there’s lots of stuff I still want to do so I want the time for me to leave here and go on to my next life to wait awhile!

God is good. All the time! That is all.

Research Drugs

Wow! Time flies, doesn’t it? I had resolved to be more faithful to my blog … you never know if there might be a person out there who might be helped by getting to know someone else who is facing the same battle they are. But, months have passed and I haven’t written a word.

Today is treatment day again. I praise God on treatment days that this test drug does not make me sick. At all. Such a nice switch from the initial treatments I was given. I have been told the drug company that makes this test drug will soon be asking the FDA for approval. I hope they get it so that lots of cancer patients can be treated with it. I’m not sure if it is just for lung cancer or not, but it is wonderful :).

Which brings me to a subject that is somewhat confusing to me. I saw something recently that said that only 5% of cancer patients go into a research study. Why?

The traditional treatments I received had held the tumors at bay as long as I was getting them. But, as soon as we stopped them, the tumors began to grow again. And, because the treatments I had been getting were so harsh, we couldn’t continue that particular regimen.

So, I didn’t have a lot of options. I could have undergone a different chemo treatment that didn’t work very well and that would have made me even sicker than what I’d been getting did or I could try a research drug. I didn’t spend ANY time trying to decide which route was the right one for me. And, I have never, ever, not for one second, been sorry I decided to go with the research drug.

I’ve been getting the research drug since July. My blood work is still phenomenal. I haven’t lost a pound (though I wish I could lose about 40!!!). We eat before we start our long day at the hospital and we eat again when the day is done – no nausea!! Not right after the treatment and not later either. I am a bit more fatigued the day after a treatment than I am otherwise, but it isn’t significant. I have participated in agility trials on a Saturday after receiving treatments on the previous Thursday. That wouldn’t be happening if I was getting the old “tried and true” chemo drugs. I’d be spending most of my time being sick, I’m afraid.
My last CT scan could not detect the tumors in my lymph nodes in my neck. The tumors in my lungs are just sitting there – not growing, not spreading. 

I think it was one year ago today that I had my very first chemo treatment. None of us had much hope that I would still be here today, blogging away and still getting treatments. But, here I am and I feel great!!! Just last weekend, I took my Barney-dog to Waco for an agility trial. He and I ran in three events on Friday evening, six on Saturday, and another two on Sunday before we headed back home. We didn’t just run, we were competitive!!! Mr. Barney earned himself two elite titles and seven or eight qualifying scores – first or second place each time. Who would have thought?

God isn’t finished with me on this old earth … and even though I know that Heaven is a far better place than here … I’m really glad that He’s left me here for awhile! 🙂 I just hope that I’m adequately fulfilling whatever purpose He has for leaving me here.

Time to go!

Months Later…

Surprises

If you had told me in October 2012 that I would still be here and feeling pretty darn good in August 2013, I would have thought you were very optimistic. Facts back up my pessimism. Less than 50% of all Stage 4 lung cancer patients live for one year after diagnosis. I realize I haven’t actually made it a year yet … I have to make it to the end of October for that … but God willing, that is going to happen.

Entertaining myself during Chemo

This picture was taken at UT Southwestern where I was receiving a test drug as part of the research study I am in. It marks the last time I will have an infusion through a vein in my arm (or hand, as the case may be). Tomorrow, I go in for a port. No food or water after midnight. Arrive at St Paul Hospital by 7. St. Paul is an hour away! We’ll be getting up and getting with it early!!

As you can tell by the picture, I don’t look particularly sick except for the tubes coming out of my arm. It is because I am NOT very sick. My blood tests continue to be nearly perfect. My organs are holding up beautifully. I haven’t lost weight (not necessarily a good thing in my mind but most people find that a positive). Despite receiving chemo for six treatments of a 3-chemical cocktail and six more of one chemical, I didn’t lose my hair. It did get really ugly though so I had just had it all cut off not too long before the picture above was taken.

What’s It Been Like?

Once you receive a cancer diagnosis, I don’t think it can ever be forgotten or even pushed very far back from the forefront of thoughts. The fact that I have stage 4 lung cancer – the deadliest of all cancers – with only 15% of all those diagnosed, including those diagnosed at an early stage – living for five years – controls nearly everything I do. For instance, vegetables are not my favorite dish but I try hard to eat dark green vegetables every chance I get (realizing, of course, that we eat out most every meal). When we eat at a buffet, I will frequently choose to eat fish. I drink vegetable and/or tomato juice by the gallons. I try to stay away from carbonated drinks and, despite craving on occasion a mixed drink, I have refrained from imbibing. All in the interest of a healthier lifestyle.

Likewise, you will find me walking my dogs every morning. They are such a blessing. If I didn’t have them, I know I would not make myself get up and out. Not only do we walk, we also go to agility practice most Saturday mornings – even now in the hot August Texas summer heat. Last week, between the two dogs, I ran 6 or 8 complete courses. I have to sit down between runs and catch my breath, but I can still run! Thank you, Jesus!!! I am blessed.

For the first few months, I refused to buy anything for myself. I didn’t want to spend any money on someone who was short for this earth. I finally broke down and purchased several pairs of slacks and lots of little summer tops (admittedly, the tops have all come from Walmart or Sam’s, but still!). I’ve signed up for magazines that have subscriptions that run for a year. I’ve signed up for dog trials and photography classes.

On the other hand, I have thoroughly enjoyed listening for hours to the Gaither Vocal Band. Some of their videos make you happy; make you want to clap and sing along with them. I looked into going to a concert of theirs. There is a 3-day event in Tennessee over Memorial Day 2014 that sounds like a ton of fun. Tickets would amount to several hundred dollars. I have chosen not to invest despite the fact that really good seats are still available.

I’d really love to have a new car, too. But, I don’t want to purchase something long term that Robert might be stuck paying for without me here to help.

So, short term, there are not huge changes in my life. I can’t go to as many agility practices or trials because of stamina, desire not to spend excessive amounts of money, and a growing lack of interest. But, I have developed new interests that take a little less stamina (maybe), such as photography. Why can’t I ever find a cheap hobby??!!

I have more to say, but it is getting late and I have to get moving early in the morning. I’ll try to revisit here a whole lot sooner than I have been so far!

 

Agility Fun!

Friends and Fun

I signed up for seven runs at the Run as One NADAC agility trial on Sunday, January 6, 2013. My dogs and I both love agility. So much! But, I was a little concerned about whether or not I was going to have it in me to make the drive to Terrell, TX (about an hour away), set up crates for Cotton and Barney, and then manage to run them throughout the day.

When I signed up for the trial, I carefully considered which runs to include on my entry. If Barney had a title on the line, he got the run. If it was something Cotton loves to do (like tunnelers), she got a run. I made sure that both dogs never ran in the same class at the same level. It was really hard to narrow my entry down to only seven runs. Only seven runs. Considering that I often ran 12 or more at a NADAC trial, “only seven” is accurate. But, for someone undergoing chemo and suffering from lung cancer and emphysema, “only seven” sounds like a lot!

My husband Robert and I hoped to make it out to Terrell to set up the crates, etc. on Saturday afternoon. But, I was extraordinarily tired and needed to rest first. By the time I was rested, it was too late to go out there. I was afraid we would drive for an hour and find no one at the arena. We would have wasted a trip.

Robert is not the agility aficionado that I am, but he planned to go with me to the trial on Sunday to ensure that I had someone there with me in the event that I had bitten off far more than I could chew! Imagine his delight when my friend Dori texted me and offered to go along with me to the trial! It let him off the hook and I was glad to have someone going with me that loves agility as much as I do! I can’t tell you how much I appreciated her offer. She had to get up at about 4 AM to be at my house in time for us to drive to Terrell and arrive by 7. That’s a good friend!

Agility Trial

Run As One trials are delightful. They are relatively small and very friendly. I know nearly everyone who comes out to compete and consider many of the competitors good friends. I think almost everyone knew of my condition and were extraordinarily supportive.

Since Dori was sweet enough to give up her Sunday to go with me to the trial, I decided that she should be the person that primarily ran my little Barney. He is a fun dog to run in agility – he loves it and, while he is not the fastest dog out there, he is a very accurate competitor. Cotton has a blast on the agility field, but she is as likely to make up her own course as not. The likelihood of earning a qualifying score is pretty slim when running Cotton! I love to run her but would certainly hesitate to ask anyone else to have the same pleasure!

Dori ran Barney for four of his five runs. I wasn’t sure if he would run with her or not, but run he did! They earned three qualifying scores. One of those “Q’s” earned his Open Regular title – he has now earned the right to run in Elite Standard. When I started NADAC agility, I never really imagined that any dog of mine would make it to elite!

I ran Barney for his second Open Regular event. I was gratified to also earn a qualifying score because I was afraid that my chemo-wracked body would not be able to run fast enough to make time. I was surprised and pleased to learn that we actually came in 10 seconds or more under time. (Since I have never been fast, I was afraid that if chemo slowed me at all, we would be too slow to earn a Q.)

I ran Cotton in Tunnelers and Chances. Her Tunnelers run was actually quite nice after she settled down a bit. Her Chances run was not so nice, but she had a really good time!

We had so much fun! I wasn’t sure if I would be able to continue training and trialing after I was diagnosed with lung cancer. I am absolutely gratified that we were able to go and even to compete some.

We do miss a lot of classes because I come home from work too worn out to make it to class at night. And, because of the chemo schedule and being too sick to get off of the couch, much less go run in a trial, there is a relatively small window available to me to trial. But, it can happen and we can be competitive. The Run as One trial proved that to me.

It also proved to me that I have some very delightful friends! It goes without saying that Dori earned a special place in my heart for her willingness to come with us and help me all day long. My lifelong friend Patti drove all the way from Irving to Terrell to spend several hours with me out in the cold arena! She doesn’t even run a dog! Bridget came to the NADAC trial only after seeing how supportive they were of me. Other friends were at the trial primarily because I had signed up for that day. How special is that??? SO special!!!!!