Category Archives: UT Southwestern

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. 

Faces of Cancer

I started writing this article yesterday while I was in the waiting room at the Seay building at UT Southwestern. I guess I lost Internet before it was saved so I lost it all ๐Ÿ™ I’m really sad about it because I felt “inspired” while writing it and think it was good (and no one can ever dispute that since it is gone, gone, gone!).

I am going to attempt to reconstruct what I wrote, what I was feeling when I wrote it. Wish my memory was not horrible! That’s a BAD sad effect of having chemo (or maybe of getting old or maybe both) – no memory. At all. Thoughts rush into my mind and leave before I can grab hold of them!!

Going to a cancer center is eye-opening. They are all full. When I go to Texas Oncology at Presbyterian Hospital, the waiting room, the infusion room, and the hallway where you wait for labs are all full of people. When I go to the Seay building of UT Southwestern, there are even more people everywhere you look. So many lives struck by cancer.

Full waiting room. Too much cancer!

Yesterday – Monday – we had a hard time finding a place to sit even though there are two different large waiting rooms to choose between. My picture doesn’t reflect how very crowded it was, but it is the only picture I tried to take of the waiting room … It’s a little blurry but I decided that’s okay because I am not trying to identify anybody who was sitting in there … just to record the crowd…

If you are not personally affected by having the disease yourself, you know someone – usually a friend or family member – who has battled some kind of cancer at some point in their lives. My dad died of cancer at age 49. My beloved stepfather, Bob Massie, was eaten up with cancer and passed away just five years after he and Mom married. My maternal aunt died from cancer and my paternal uncle did, too.

Over the last few years, Robert and I lost two great friends to cancer – Mike Schoolfield and Richard McCann died about a year apart. Another good friend, Steve Massengale, was given only weeks to live after cancer that had eaten him up was discovered. His is a success story!!! He has been a survivor for at least 10 years!! The more I think, the more friends and family I think of who have suffered from cancer. Some fall victim and some beat it … but they and their families have been touched by it.

And, for every person who receives that awful diagnosis themselves, there are family and friends who love them whose lives also change immediately and forever. It is an insidious disease for sure.

In the relatively small department where I work, Janice’s husband has had lymphoma. He is currently in remission, praise God!, but has developed multiple myeloma – the disease Robin Roberts from Good Morning America chronicled as she has battled it. The brother-in-law of my friend Cindy is battling leukemia. They had it under control for a few months, but it has returned now. The grandmother of another coworker has been fighting cancer for months, surprising the doctors who thought she would die within only weeks of diagnosis. My former boss was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer only months after I received my diagnosis. Cancer is just everywhere. Everywhere.

I just read recently that David Phelps’ sister passed away last year. David is the unbelievable tenor who often sings with the Bill Gaither Vocal Band. His sister frequently sang backup for David when he was on the road doing concerts. You would never have realized it by looking at her or watching her, but she was fighting liver and back cancer that ultimately took her life. She was only 49. She had so much life left to live, but cancer cut it short. For some reason, that broke my heart. She always had a big smile and seemed so full of life. Gone…………..

It doesn’t matter how much money you have. How old you are. What your name is or what your parentage is. What color you are. Cancer does not discriminate.

These melancholy thoughts were in my mind when I saw the following in one of the waiting rooms yesterday:

This young mom and her daughter were both messing with the doll the mom is holding. Mom was braiding the doll’s hair, using great care to do a good job of it. I wish I had had my good camera and the nerve to ask if I could take a picture or a series of pictures of the two of them. Mom, with her mask and bald head from chemo. Daughter with her smiles and happy countenance. For some reason, the two of them represent The Face of Cancer to me. There is a lot of sadness in this picture but also hope. Neither Mom nor daughter appears to be giving in to the disease.

On the other hand, I am struck by one more thing when I observe the people in these cancer centers. Nearly everyone has a very pleasant attitude. I hear polite, happy people speaking. I rarely see anyone who doesn’t smile – even when they look like cancer has really ravaged them. Very few appear to have given in to the disease. I do believe that you will see more happy and contented people in the cancer centers than you will at nearly anywhere else. I sometimes pat myself on the back for having a good attitude about being sick, but truthfully, it is more common than not for cancer patients to have a positive outlook on life.

At the same time as I saw the mom and young daughter above, there was another man and his family or friends sitting there. Lots of hospital staff came up to the man to speak and kid around with him. He is obviously a favorite. Based on his appearance, I have to wonder how much longer he has on this earth. His head was not bald like the mom’s is but you could tell that chemo had done its work on his hair. He was skinny … REAL skinny. Sick skinny. But, his smile was bright and cheerful. He also represents the Face of Cancer to me. I wish I had gotten a picture of him.

I decided that I would try to get more pictures of people in the waiting rooms when I go. So many stories. So many heartbreaks. And, at the same time, so much joy! The faces of cancer. They are you. They are me. Everyone is impacted by this insidious disease in one way or another – everyone.