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Friday, September 30, 2011

The Elephant in the Room

Where to start? My mind is tumbling with news to report.

The easiest to talk about is the weather. Yesterday, Dallas hit 101. Again! And I believe it's almost October (according to the calendar!) This heat just won't let go. Our A/C may be running all winter at this rate! I count the goats every night when they come up to feed - sort of afraid one might fall into the cracks in the ground and disappear....
Yesterday was also Chemo Day for mom (according to the calendar). But according to her blood work, it was a No Go. This time it was her platelets that were too low. 74. Normal is somewhere between 130-400. The low count coupled with her overall "isschy" stomach made for a lousy day. The last several days as a matter of fact. The nausea has given way to more vomiting over the past 48 hours.

This is the hard stuff to talk about.

Her weight has now slipped below 100. And the constant nausea is wearing her thin. Obviously, the current medical strategies aren't working well (understatement). Dr. Davis had been called to the hospital on an emergency, so we saw his PA, Allison.

It was a good consultation. Allison patiently listened and then reviewed mom's chart. So far, we have ruled out:

1) Gallbladder - rotten, slimy, no-good, you're outta here thing (removed in May)

2) Sepsis from the Strep infection last month - cultures are clear, no more strep

3) Heavy-Duty Antibiotics for the Strep - way past done with them

4) Gastric Obstruction - recent EGD ruled this out

5) Metastatic spread of the cancer - ruled out as well on the last CT scan several weeks ago.

5) Gemzar Chemo Treatment - nausea and vomiting began during her hiatus from the chemo

6) Medications for the Nausea: Have tried Reglan, Megace and now, Marinol to help stimulate appetite and control nausea - minimal to no improvement.

We are left with the Elephant in the room - the Pancreatic Cancer itself.

It's taken a lot to convince me that the cancer itself (while still contained to the pancreas) can do so much damage. The medical explanation is long and convoluted (maybe because scientists still don't completely understand how the cancer destroys the digestive system), but in simple layman's terms, pancreatic cancer interferes with the bodies ability to digest and absorb nutrients. No matter how much mom could shovel in (and keep down), the cancer is blocking her efforts. Maybe the cancer alters the metabolism, or maybe it inhibits digestive enzymes. Whatever it's doing, it's doing it well.

BUT... this pancreatic cancer has met a formidable opponent in mom. She may look as fragile as a piece of fine china; underneath she's got a streak of pure cast-iron skillet. It's true!

I also know that she can't fight forever. Her strength is dwindling and the quality of life factor is a huge consideration. How many of us have had the stomach flu and felt like hanging it up after 3 days? Mom's been pushing through this for over 10 months. I find that overwhelming, completely and utterly.
And yet, she is still smiling. And pushing. During our talk with Allison, mom brought up the possibility of a J-tube (feeding tube). This would perhaps allow us to bypass the finicky stomach and get the nutrients(calories) right where they need to be. It's definitely a possibility and we'll pursue it this week with Dr. Davis.
And then, of course, we got our weekly quota of fluids, steroids and Kytril. Oh, happy day! Mom went home and ate a taco! And enjoyed it!

Mom's lesson for me this week: Never underestimate what you can endure.

My lesson for you: Never underestimate the power of love.

Your gift to us has been tangible: love in action. I know that it has pulled mom through these past months. Words simply can't express the heartbeat of emotion.

May your Gifts of Love be Sweetly Returned , Jane

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Journey Clarified

Yesterday's post caught me by surprise.  What started out as a light commentary on the doings of the day took a detour down a much deeper, more emotionally raw path than I expected.  I guess it's part of the journey, but still the visceral punch leaves me winded.  The anticipatory grief is truly a glacier weight, slow, massive and unstoppable, grinding us down when we foolishly turn our backs on its icy chill to seek the sun.

I am always in awe of the timing of God.  Some would call it coincidence, I believe it to be the providential work of His unseen Hand.  An email hit my inbox just as I posted yesterday's blog.  My heart was sore, my soul felt bruised.  The note spoke healing with mercy and grace.  In it, a sweet so-journer on this cancer trail shared a Word.  Of Hope.  From God.

Ecclesiastes 3:11b "He has set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

The timing was right.  My heart was questioning.  In answer, a glimpse of God's longing... for us to long with a desparate need for Him, for Eternity.  He has set eternity in our very hearts.  Oh, what we miss as we live our very lives focused on the here and now.  Does it take a terminal illness to draw our eyes heavenward?  To seek the answers of eternity?  Of paradise?  Peace settles as God assures that we will never understand, never completely fathom the path, and it's okay.  Setting our hearts on eternity is the goal, and God has already done the work.

Grace met the need.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Coons and Creeks

The Racoon Capture and Release Program is alive and well on our little farm!  This morning we tagged Coon #30 in the trap!

For those new to this blog, here's a quick review of how we got into the racoon business:

Earlier this spring an adorable mama fox had a litter of cubs in the meadow by our pond.

But then she got a little bolder and set up housekeeping at the edge of our backyard, and started drooling over our feathered friends, the peacocks and duck.

Unwilling to take the .22 to our visitor, we decided the more humane option was a live animal trap.  Great idea!  We have now caught...

The Duck

The Cat

And 30 Racoons!

But no Fox.

All in all it has been an entertaining venture...  We take the coons across the county and release them at the Deep Creek Bridge.  It is one of the only creeks (spring-fed) that is still running during this horrendous drought.  As I said, we are nothing if not humane!  Oh, and did I mention the red stripe we spray-paint down their backs?

We want to make sure we aren't re-trapping the same "family" over and over again!  But, they really, really don't like the fashion statement!    So grumpy...

The drive to Deep Creek Bridge is a pretty one.  With the radio up and the window down, I'm reminded why I love it here so much.

And while the creek isn't Deep, the drop from the bridge certainly is!

After releasing the latest coon and watching him/her waddle off into the brush, I wandered down to the creek bed and just sat awhile.

This spot is so off the beaten track that not a single car or truck passed that way while I soaked in the peace. The solitude was complete, with just the gurgling water and the trill of birds.  Not even a breeze to rustle the leaves, just quiet... A perfect place to think, or not think, maybe to just take some time to grapple with life's bombshells.  Like pancreatic cancer.

It is a hateful, insidious, relentless disease.  And I know it will eventually take mom away from us.   Each day is becoming more and more a struggle as she tries to maintain a foothold with her weight and strength.  And I see her slipping away... ounce by ounce, pound by pound.  Her once strong frame is becoming fragile, the bones pronounced in a way that reminds me of the most delicate fine china, breakable, but still heart-hauntingly beautiful.

The creek flows slowly past over pebbles and rocks, and I watch a small leave fall into the current.

It begins a journey that takes it farther and farther from sight, until finally it drifts around the corner. Tears track my cheeks as I wonder what it will be like the moment mom turns that corner and drifts from our sight.

I can only grapple.

And grieve for what's to come.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Circle of Life

It's been a quiet and restful weekend for mom, nausea seems to be her only complaint, but meals are staying put and energy is steady. Some delightful guests put a smile on her face Saturday afternoon, and were a welcome diversion from the doldrums of chemo recuperation! Steve drove up from Houston for a few days, and then Travis and Kelli brought Autumn over for a hug and some lovin'!

There's nothing like a little one to lighten your load. Mom and Dad are blessed with 8 grandchildren, 2 beautiful granchildren-in-law, and 2 great-granchildren. 

Such innocence, pure and sweet. Both Autumn and Skylar have an uncanny ability to melt our hearts and smooth away all the troubles.

  A smile, a laugh, a shy turn of the head, and then tiny hands wrapped around our necks... we're goners, everytime!

With the new Lion King movie out this week, the ads and commercials are everywhere. The theme song, Circle of Life, beats a constant tatoo in my head.. Especially poignant at this point of time in our family. We have young ones, just beginning to find their place and ones who have traveled the path, a circle unwinding, leading us with surety to a place of rest, of faith and of peace:

From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

Of course, the other song dancing through my head is "Hakuna Matata!" That's also from the Lion King, sung by the Meerkat, Timon, and Pumba, the Wart Hog. It means "no worries for the rest of your days." It's their problem-free philosophy. And it really has a catchy, toe-tapping beat. Just what you need after crying your eyes out with Circle of Life. Let's hear it for the cartoon musical!

Ok, maybe I've watched just a little too much Disney today...

Hakuna Matata!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fannie Mae to the Rescue

Today was Round #2 in this Gemzar chemo cycle.
Mom started the day a little green around the gills and lost her breakfast before we even got to chemo. However, a little steroids, a little Kytril (anti-nausea wonder drug) and some Gemzar seems to have turned the tide.

This evening she polished off a delicous Italian Sausage Sub Sandwich prepared by Dad, what a chef! And then had a delectable Fannie Mae Truffle for Dessert, compliments of Ruth and Manny, thoughtfulness drenched in yumminess.

Now that's a way to turn the day around!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Preparing for Winter Winds

Heat waves still radiate off the old dead oak tree as Leroy fells it for our winter wood pile.

The wood is split and stacked as sweat drips down his back.

It is love in action.  Leroy's gift to us.  Preparing our home for the inevitable bite of winter.  And it will come.  The heat of this summer will bow to the chill of a north wind.  That old woodstove will thaw frozen toes and melt icy mittens.  Lazy cats will curl near its warmth, and hungry flames will dance over this day's oak offering.  The sizzle and crackle of dry wood will punctuate our evenings.

If it were just so easy to prepare for the winter winds of life. 

Mom is walking that final season of her life and has felt the bitter chill at her back.


How can you be?

We try.  We organize.  We rationalize.  But quickly realize that we will never be ready to let her go.  Hearts squeeze, and stomachs churn.  Eyes sting as emotions tumble over.

We know that even as the winter winds draw relentlessly near, this cancer journey pulls her towards final days.

We brace for the bitter cold, the chill of loss...

But, unexpectedly we are warmed by an affectionate hug, arms hold us close.  Sweet conversation crackles through the house as generous friends load our table with delicious offerings.  A genuine smile lights mom's eyes as dad painstakingly folds the laundry, and laughter splits the night as grandchildren pose for goofy pictures. 

And this is love in action.  Protection from the cold.  The warmth to hold us through the coming season.  The splitting of joyful, normal moments into bite-size pieces, and the stacking of memories, precious and whole.  Perhaps it is all the preparation needed to sustain us when those winter winds come.

Love Keeps, Love Warms, Love Holds Us Together....

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sodas and Cancer?

New medi-port is in place and mom is happy to have it back. Surgery went well yesterday, and while the area is still a little tender, they will be able to access the port this Thursday for her next round of chemo. And that's good news after this past month of iv sticks and stabs!

Mom's been fairly active around the house, and has even been able to motor around without the oxygen for brief periods of time. Love seeing her up and about. But the weight issue is back, as the pounds continue to slide off. Personally, I think the cancer is having a fit. With the Gemzar keeping it in check, the cancer hasn't been able to grow and spread, so now it's ticked off and making mom pay the only way it can, by sabotaging her appetite and nutrition absorption. Crummy Cancer! Mom, however, is nothing if not persistent, and works to make every calorie count - praying for relief from the ongoing nausea and vomiting, for returned appetite, and for moments of pure food bliss.

Before I close, I'd like to share a warning from today's Dr. Oz show. It grabbed my attention when Dr. Oz announced a new study had been done on pancreatic cancer. It seems that the study showed that people who drink 2 or more sodas a week are at a higher risk of getting pancreatic cancer.

Really?! Seriously?!! Could we not have a study on finding a cure for this deadly disease?! Please! Almost everyone in America drinks more than 2 sodas a week. Except Mom - she isn't, nor has ever been a soda drinker. Water happens to be her drink of choice,

so put that in your study Dr. Oz. It's time to put our money where it counts and get serious about finding a cure.

Ok, off my soapbox. Shakin' it off. But really...

Still shakin' it off, All's good, Really, Love you, I do, Jane

Monday, September 19, 2011

Heat Waves and Hospital Stays

Some records are just not meant to be broken. Like Heat Waves and Hospital Stays.

Last week, the Dallas area sizzled past the old record of most 100 degree days in a summer.  On Tuesday, we hit 107, making it 70 sweltering days in the triple digits.  The old record was 69 days sets back in 1980.  Brutal to be sure.  That was one record that didn't need to be beat!

And then there are hospital stays. In the past 30 days, mom has spent a total of 24 of them entertaining the staff at Baylor Hospital. Not a month we wish to repeat!

We're glad to report that she continues to improve at home! Appetite remains steady, nausea is minimal (with only a few vomiting episodes), pain is under control, and she is even weaning herself off of the oxygen, slowly, but surely!

This morning we headed for the surgeon's office (not the hospital, yea!) for a quick day surgery procedure to implant her new medi-port.  They wheeled her off around 10, so now we wait.  With any luck, we'll be home in time for lunch.  More updates to follow...

Praying we have seen the last of the heat and of the hospital. Bring on the beautiful days of autumn. We're ready to enjoy!

My Love, Jane

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cat in the Trap

I know you've probably all been hoping (praying) that Jane's trapping days were over, but I'm afraid the saga continues. To be sure, we have given the trap a rest for the past month. Little things like hospital stays and vacation days put a kink in our trap-setting ways. But two days ago as Leroy was leaving for work in the pre-dawn hours, he opened the back door and "surprised" 3 racoons on the back porch.

Those coons were getting just a little too cozy for my peace of mind. So out came the trap. And we promptly caught the neighborhood stray cat.

He was not a happy camper. I wasn't either. He looked a little possessed with his yellow eyes gleaming and tail twitching, and then he began drooling something awful, so to the vet we go (rabies did fleetingly cross my mind...)

But, never fear, the story has a happy ending. Turns out our little stray had a prickly grass burr embedded in the back of his tongue.

Ouch, Big time!

And since they already had him sedated, I waved a generous hand and said "Give him the works!" He was tested, vaccinated and neutered all in the span of 20 minutes. As the vet loaded him back in the crate, she laughed and said the minute we release him we'll probably never see him again. But surprise... he hasn't left our back porch! Seems he does appreciate a helping hand! And the bowl of cat food by the back door....

And mom does too - appreciate the helping hand that is... She has been showered with well wishes, prayers, cards and meals (Lisa and Pat, kudos) these past weeks. Thank you, thank you. We are always so humbled by the generosity of spirit, and the sweet out-pouring of love and affection. It truly keeps her going when her body just wants to give up.
Somewhere I heard a quote that says "No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it." You are that inspired orchestra playing beautiful music just for mom. Our gratitude knows no bounds. Thank you...

Showered in Grace, Jane

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Happy Birthday Dad!

Happy Birthday Dad!

May the fishing always be good, and the birthdays even better! Love You Always!!

Unfortunately, even Birthday Celebrations can't stop doctor visits and chemo infusions. Today, mom was busy with both.

We started with a visit to her surgeon this morning, and plans are now in the works to surgically implant another medi-port  this coming Monday. Several weeks of standard iv lines up and down her arms have reinforced our hearty endorsement of this medical marvel!

Then we followed up with a visit to Dr. Davis, her oncologist. Bloodwork was drawn, weight checked, and blood pressure monitored. I would love to say all are in ideal ranges, but... RBC and Hemoglobin are still a little low and her weight has dropped to 106. Blood Pressure, however, was great! And so were the WBC and Platelets. Enough so that Dr. Davis was ready to continue the Gemzar chemo today. Off to the chemo lab. Round #1 Gemzar cycle has begun.

As before, they pre-dosed mom with Kytril and Decadron, our favorite anti-nausea, steroid duo, and gave her a bag of fluids. All very welcome, as mom's nausea has been increasing steadily for the last two days, along with 2 bouts of vomiting. Praying these meds help settle the stomach and make her more comfortable. We opted for a note of positive thinking on our way home and got Olive Garden To Go for Dad's Birthday Dinner (thanks Steve, the Gift Card was well appreciated!) And so far, so good. Chicken Marsala is a hit!

A busy, productive day makes for a tired mom, so now it's off to bed for much needed rest and some delightfully sweet dreams of Tuscan villas and sleepy vineyards at sunset. Wow... that Chicken Marsala was really good!!

Happy, Happy Birthday Dad! Consider yourself loved and hugged!

Always yours, Jane

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Vacation Wanderings

Vacations are meant to be enjoyed.  But this one was tinged with worry as mom's health teetered on fragile.  The balance swayed from day to day, and more than once we were ready to turn around and head home.  Thankfully, both our vacation and mom's hospital stay were "successful" and they both ended with the sweet, satisfying drive home.

Our vacation took us through 5 states, multiple temperature changes and dozens of family hugs.  And it all began with Leroy's family reunion in central Illinois, over Labor Day weekend:

And, of course, the requisite picture of the youngest and oldest!  Grandma Jean and Baby Reagan:

And while we were visiting, laughing, munching and playing in Illinois, my brother was taking mom back to the hospital in Texas.  Her nausea and vomiting had reached epic proportions Saturday morning, culminating in a serious esophageal tear and copious amounts of projectile, bloody vomit.  The news had us packing.  But Dad wanted us to wait until the doctor had performed the EGD, and so we waited.  And worried.  And attempted to continue our visit.  So hard to do when your heart is sick with fear.  I think for the first time in my life I began to understand Christ's admonition, "Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28.  We were 900 miles away from home, all we could do was take our burden to Christ and rest in Him.  And He did give us rest.

We traveled upstate to my Aunt's place near the Chain O' Lakes in Wisconsin, and wandered in her beautiful woodland forest, praying, seeking and allowing the peace to settle over us:

We rested on ageless boulders of silvered granite trusting in His promises:

And drank in pleasure at the sight of His Handiwork in her overflowing gardens:

By Tuesday, mom was stabilizing, and we knew the worst was behind us.  As she sipped her clear, liquid hospital diet, we celebrated with a trip to the local Dairy Queen for Blizzards with Aunt Di:

And then spent a lazy afternoon on the lake with good friends:

A sweet ending to a stressful vacation.  When we arrived home, we found mom resting comfortably in her favorite chair, smiling,

She has never looked more beautiful to us!

May our vacation never be frought with such worry ever again!  This wanderer is extremely grateful to be home....

Monday, September 5, 2011

Here We Go Again

Is there ever a good time to go on vacation?!  We have been up in the air for over a week.  Mom insisted that we go, our gut said no, but here we are... spending a week visiting Leroy's family in Illinois, enjoying a great family reunion, cooler weather and sweet fellowship.  And all the while, worrying about mom.  With good reason.  She wasn't the picture of health when we headed out Friday morning, even though she assured us she was fine.  Should have trusted that gut feeling.  Saturday morning we got the dreaded call from Dad, "she's getting worse."  My brother, Dean, was there with her and he graciously sent a "guest blog" for me to relay to everyone.  So, here we go again...

Sunday, September 4, 2011...

Yesterday started off as every good Labor Day weekend should with a 6:52 tee time to beat the Texas heat. I even chipped in a birdie from 45 yds out on the 7th hole at Oakmont.  Around 10am I received a VM from Jane who has taken the week to travel with Leroy to the his family reunion in Illinois. Jane had told me that mom hadn’t been able to hold any food down and had been up through the night vomiting and asked if I could swing by and check on her. Since I didn’t check my phone until the 18th hole I figured I could finish my round and swing by. If you’re wondering I finished my round with a 91, respectable but still needing improvement.

When I arrived at Mom’s I found dad there which was unexpected since I knew he was scheduled to work yesterday. Mom later informed me she was feeling so icky she called and asked him to come home. Dad immediately punched out and made his way home to see how he could help. (major brownie points from Mom) Pat and Richard were also there finishing up a little steam cleaning in the bedroom. Turns out mom wasn’t able to make it to the porcelain throne to do her worshipping which left quite the mess. Thank you Pat and Richard for being such good friends and if you’re looking for any side jobs we have 4 kids and 5 pets over here at our casa, always looking for a good carpet cleaning crew.

After an hour or so of sitting with mom I requested that she call her doctor. She agreed    (shocking) and made the call. 20 minutes later his fill-in called and told mom to head to the hospital to get evaluated. (Dr code for pricked, prodded and probed). Pat helped mom pack a lite bag, I gathered her essentials – phone, i-touch, I-pad, kindle and chargers told dad to sit tight while I took mom to the hospital. As expected she was “evaluated” and also as expected was admitted to the hospital. Amazingly she is back in room 588 and upon arriving on the 5th floor almost all the nurses gathered in her room and started doing what they do best; take GREAT care of my mom.

There are still tests and more “evaluations” to be done this coming week including a scope of Moms stomach but for now she’s resting comfortably on her air mattress bed. Lisa and I will be checking in on her this afternoon to get the “Doctor” prognosis and make sure Jane has it to post soon. For now please pray that the doctors can find out what’s keeping mom down and correct it soon. A big thank you to Jane for allowing me to keep you updated and safe travels for her and Leroy. Until our next meeting, Hit’em straight and long!!!

Sending our Love and Prayers, Dean