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Monday, October 31, 2011

Balancing Act

Well, it's Monday. And we haven't had to call the doctor...yet. Mom's abdominal pain isn't worse, and maybe it's just a tad better, but definitely still a problem. Mom thinks the increased dose of Nexium may be helping. We have our fingers and toes crossed :-)

She is still eating fairly well, but when the pain hits, she says it is like a burning spasm under her rib cage. Not fun. She's been having to take quite a bit of break-through pain medication just to stay comfortable. We covet your prayers for this nagging discomfort.

I think that is probably one of our biggest concerns as we face this terminal illness head-on. Balancing physical comfort with aggressive treatment. And it is a balancing act. We have the toxic Gemzar on board to go after the cancer, and then we also have the Nexium, the marinol, the steroids, the morphine and the vicodin on board to counteract the harrowing effects of the chemo. Balance.

It's all Balance. And when we get the balance right, it's a good day! Praying for wisdom and grace to walk that tightrope well.

Love you all, Jane

Saturday, October 29, 2011

True Friends

“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.” ~ unknown

Love this quote.  It speaks to me, especially after today.  Because today, these friends saw our need, swooped in to the rescue, and sang smiles back into our lives.

I'll be honest, the last few days have been rough.  We wobble with that trust.  Moments of strength followed by doubts and a gnawing worry over the insidious nature of this cancer.  Our smiles have been shaky, our fears breaching the surface often.

Friends.  Oh, they knew.  And they came.  Without hesitation.  They pulled us up off the couch, piled us into cars and hallowed our lives with laughter and love.  Bless every sweet note of grace today.

Mom's friends organized an impromptu card party.  Canasta.  Mom's favorite.

My friends nabbed me after lunch and made a beeline for the Dallas Arboretum.  Hiking, sunshine, dazzling beauty, laughter and conversation.  What a glorious way to spend this crisp, fall day!  The gardens were magnificient and all decked out for the Halloween festivities.

And nary a word about pancreatic cancer.  Just friends connecting, sharing and enjoying:

True friends, not afraid to wade into the muck of our emotional distress, take the burden for an afternoon and put that song back into our hearts.

Thank you, sweet ones, you are His grace to us this day. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Foggy Vision

Shaking the fog from our minds this day as surely as the sun will burn the last of this damp mist away by noon.  The valley is quiet and still under the blanket of moisture, waiting for the light of day to bring warmth and comfort.

It is the same with us.

The fog of worry has stilled us, and we wait for the Son to light our way, warm us, to bring clarity and comfort.  We make the decision to trust the road beneath our wheels even when we can't see for the clouded vision of uneasiness and fear.  And that trust is all He asks.  His promises are true.  He will never leave us, nor forsake us, no matter how foggy the way seems.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Just a word, Not a sentence...

It's a fact. What goes up, invariably comes down. Obviously mom's tumor marker didn't get the memo...

In the past week it has spiked up 80 points and is now at 362. It was not the news we wanted. Combined with her increasing upper rib cage pain, and we have a worry fest in the making.

However, the good news is that all her other blood work looked great. Platelets have rebounded well and chemo was a go today. So this will be round #1 of Gemzar in this cycle. Hopefully the increased tumor marker is an anomaly and will be dropping as we hit it hard with the chemo.

Mom talked with the nurse today about the increased pain and described it as intense acid-reflux. When it hits, nothing seems to help. For the last two nights she's been sleeping upright in the recliner (only way she can get relief from the burning pain). Bridget, the nurse, doubled her nexium, and said to give it a week, hoping that will help. We've decided that if mom's not better by Monday, we're calling. None of this "waiting and seeing" business anymore. We tried that with her gallbladder and then again when she had the septic strep infection. Both times we followed the oncologist's "let's wait and see" approach to mom's great detriment. It's time to be a little more assertive!

Thankfully none of this has affected her appetite. Dad took her to IHOP tonight and she made quick work of the Short Stack Sampler, (pancakes, eggs, bacon and hashbrowns)! Ummm... Just love breakfast for dinner!

It would be easy to let worry consume our moments. This journey is unpredictable and rocky. We have to constantly remind ourselves that "cancer is just a word, not a sentence." If we let it become a sentence, then it takes over our lives, snuffing out the joy in the everyday blessings all around us. Like:

Rain pouring from the sky this day to quench a parched patch of earth

The first crackling fire in the woodstove this season

Pancakes smothered in sweet syrup

Gentle hands from the chemo staff, thanks Lance :)

Platelets, Red Blood Cells and Hemoglobin all doing their jobs

The smell of homemade Banana Bread baking in the oven

Giggling Grandbabies

and Chocolate Truffles

Oh, the list could go on and on, I'm sure you can add to it the many blessings of your day. God is good. May I never forget, even when worry tries to derail our Hope.

Leaning into Him, Jane

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mushroom Surprise

I always thought mushrooms were suspicious.  Most grow in the dark.  They are classified as fungi.  And the wild ones have scary names, like Death Cap and Destroying Angel.  I will agree, though, that they do have a place in the ecological scheme of things.  Their entire purpose in life is to break down dead material into usable nutrients.  In other words they live on dead, rotting things.  Like I said, suspicious. 

Not sure how I overcame my years of distrust.  Maybe it was the delectable beef stroganoff with mushrooms we had on our last cruise, or the mouth-watering sauteed mushrooms served with the steak on our last visit to SaltGrass Steakhouse.  But somewhere along the way, mushrooms and I became buds.

Until yesterday...

We found these sweet little mushrooms out in the pasture.  A little past prime, but still looking edible.

Until you see





Yep, that's Donkey Poop.  Horse Apples.  Manure.

Thank you very much Daisy,

you confirmed my original fear.  Mushrooms are not to be trusted.  Edible yes.  Trustworthy no. 

Lesson for today:  Sometimes you have to walk through crap to get the prize.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ice Cream Sundae Time

We're celebrating! A good appetite! A productive day! And 5-bar internet service!

Ok, so the internet is just the cherry on top. The real cause for our good mood is mom's continued well-being and great appetite. We don't take a pound of it for granted!

And she needed the energy for today's errands. After a tasty philly cheesesteak sandwich to fortify us, we began our rounds. We started at the hospital to get mom signed in with physical therapy, then we drove to Department of Motor Vehicles to pick up her Handicap Placard and finally checked with the medical supply store about ordering a wheelchair.  Her legs have continued to weaken over the past weeks.  The combination of weight loss and chemo fatigue has done a number on her leg muscles. Dr. Davis decided to order the physical therapy in an effort to reverse some of that damage. The handicap sign and wheelchair will make manuevering easier in the meantime. And this past weekend, a slight mis-step in the garage convinced us that mom will definitely benefit from these pre-cautions!  We are so thankful that the stumble only resulted in a few bruises and wounded pride, not broken bones and Emergency Room trips.  Dr. Davis' orders were first on our list to take care of today!

Finally, with doctor's orders complete, we got down to business and began shopping in earnest! Christmas Shopping!!! Oh, yes! Only 61 shopping days left... We made delightful progress. 2 gifts bought, only umpteen dozen to go. Skylar and Autumn, checked off! So much fun shopping for you precious little ones!

And after Christmas shopping, we hit the grocery store. With our new Handicap sticker! Big Bummer. All the handicap spots were taken! So we pulled on our Big Girl Panties and walked all the way in, completed our shopping and motored on out. My, oh, my, but we're exhausted!

Enter Ice Cream Sundaes.

With chocolate syrup. Whip cream. And nuts. Feet are up. Time to relax!

Praying your day was filled with sweet successes. And your evening marked by the contented exhaustion of a day well lived. We recommend ice cream for everyone!
Love you, Jane

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spa Day

Might I suggest to everyone who is struggling with pancreatic cancer right now, patients and caregivers alike, to stop everything and run to your nearest spa.  The pampering alone is so very uplifting, but the massage is like a healing balm.... Pure Bliss!

Mom and I had the luxury of our very own Spa Day last week.  We made an appointment at Cold Water Creek Spa for their Ultimate Pedicure:

After arriving we were escorted to the back and chose our polish color:

We were asked to fill out a medical form (mom's was long...) and then the therapists took us to the back and the pampering began!  They settled us into relaxing loungers and tucked us in with warm blankets:

Lights were dimmed and the music was soft and soothing.  After a heavenly foot soak, they leaned the chairs back, adjusted the pillows, covered our eyes with a cool mask and started the foot and leg massage.  Simply blissful.  No other words to describe it! And that medical form?  Helped them address any issues we had, such as mom's swollen legs and ankles.  Her therapist worked wonders on the edema without undue discomfort to mom.  I know next to nothing about acupressure and pressure points, but I do believe we got our first lesson during this massage.  The release of tension and euphoria of such boneless relaxation made me completely forget the camera (pictures wouldn't do it justice anyway!).     

The relaxation was utter and complete.

The stress and tension of dealing with a terminal illness is insidious and relentless.  Those who are there understand completely.  There is no escaping the daily assault.  It is physical, it is emotional and it is spiritual.  No escape. 

But moments of rest.  A brief respite to relax.  That was the beauty of our spa day.

The ultimate pedicure only lasted 80 minutes.  But they were the best 80 minutes of our day!  We walked out of the Spa both relaxed and refreshed.  Not to mention, we walked out on beautiful, pampered feet!

I think we'll be "walking" right back there next month for a repeat performance!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Peggy's on the Line

It's been a few days since I've checked in... All's well! Guess we've been out living life instead of writing about it :) But really, I have to be honest, it's all my internet's fault. It's been spitting and sputtering at me for the last 3 days. We are in a love/hate relationship right now. I've tried to keep my feelings bottled up. But they spilled over when "Peggy" answered the technical support line. Things did not go well... I'm typing fast, because you never know when our fragile connection will be severed by the fickle wi-fi box.

So, here's the update. Fast...

Mom has felt really good all week. You go, steroids and marinol! Her appetite is so much better! No vomiting and barely a touch of nausea. Pain under ribcage is still somewhat a bother, but pain meds are keeping her comfortable.

Yesterday was pampering day at the spa... Ahhhhh.... Such indulgence. A bit of shopping and Olive Garden for dinner. Good day.

Today was our weekly appointment with Dr. Davis and chemo. Mom's good friend and neighbor, Pat, came along and helped us laugh the afternoon away. It would have been mom's 3rd round in this cycle, however her platelets were again too low (77). But, Hallelujah, her tumor marker was lower too! Down to 282. Making progress. Other blood work was within norms, but with platelets so low, Dr. Davis called off chemo this week and she just got fluids, Decadron and Kytril. Good combination. We will start a new cycle of Gemzar next Thursday. He was also unruffled by the increase in mom's pain. He doesn't feel it's the cancer spreading, more likely some "irritation" from the stent in her bile duct. Will be watching it carefully, but relieved for now.

Also, good news, for all you weight watchers out there. Her weight gain has been steady and she is now back in the triple digits! Yea! And to continue the trend, we stopped at Central Market today and picked up all sorts of delectable treats. Pumpkin bars, cranberry muffins, russian black bread, lingonberry jelly, bread pudding and creamy mac-n-cheese. Please don't call the nutrition police. We know it's an odd assortment, but it all packed calories and yumminess. We'll get healthy tomorrow and eat our greens!

Of course, I may be eating chocolate, especially if this internet crisis lasts much longer! I have pics to upload from these past days, but the computer-internet wheel has ground to a halt and won't budge no matter how much coaxing and stomping I do. Even the dogs have taken cover under the couch... smile...

Ok, maybe time for a good long walk outside! Breathing deeply of the cool, crisp night air. Tracking a shooting star. Releasing tension bit by bit. Trusting the God of this vast universe to care for the aches of my heart and frustrations of my day. Seemingly trivial to anyone else, but completely significant to Him. Just what this harried soul needs tonight...

Whisper a prayer of thankfulness for all that has been good in your day. My gratitude overflows at mom's continued stability in the face of this aggressive cancer. From God's Healing Hand, we're given physical relief for this day, soul-satisfying peace for tonight, and the promise of the Start-over, Washed clean, Neverending, New Mercies for a New Morning. What Grace...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Beautiful Music

Mom and I looking sharp for the opening weekend of the Ft. Worth Symphony's POP series. We spent the afternoon at beautiful Bass Performance Hall in Ft. Worth enjoying some fabulous music.

Mom's still rather weak and the stairs proved to be a work-out, but she was determined to attend, sans wheelchair or walker. She did agree to taking the portable oxygen (thank you Lord). Once we got to our seats, we breathed a sigh of relief and let the excitement begin to build as the musicians tuned their instruments and the lights dimmed...

Every year for the past 5 years, we have had season tickets to this Symphony series, and it was so very important for mom to be there today.  I think she had thrown down the gauntlet to her body and said shape up, we're going, end of discussion.  And thankfully the new regimen of meds has really helped with the nausea and vomiting this past week! Praises for the marinol (marijuana derivative) and steroids. Great combination if we do say so!  Her improved well-being made the symphony that much more do-able.  It was a challenge met head on with a smile and mom's dogged "don't mess with me" attitude.  I can honestly say she enjoyed every minute right to the last curtain call.
We are slightly concerned about some deepening pain under her rib cage, but so far the break-through pain meds have been keeping it under control. Mom concentrates on the positives, like not throwing up once in a whole week. That's breaking news around here! Of the Hallalelujah kind!

Also happy to report that Dad is feeling much better. He was out today cataloging an impressive array of fishing equipment. I think he's looking forward to their upcoming vacation on Lake Texoma in a couple of weeks... Watch out all you little fish families, the hunter is coming. And he doesn't do catch and release. I guess maybe I get all my amazing trapping skills from Dad, and my compassionate sensitivity from Mom. Huh.... You never know just exactly what your kids are gonna pick up. Those pesky racoons are soooo lucky I had such great parents!

Praying your weekend has been filled with beautiful music of the happy kind. My Love, Jane

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Love Your Life

Living Life
by Bonnie L Mohr

Life is not a race–but indeed a journey.
Be honest. Work hard. Be choosy.
Say “thank you”, “I love you”,
and “great job” to someone each day.
Go to church, take time for prayer. The Lord giveth
and the Lord taketh, Let your handshake mean more than
pen and paper. Love your life and what you’ve been given,
it is not accidental – search for your purpose and do it as
best you can. Dreaming does matter. It allows you to
become that which you aspire to be. Laugh often.
Appreciate the little things in life and enjoy them.
Some of the best things really are free. Do not
less wrinkles are more becoming. Forgive, it frees the
soul. Take time for yourself – plan for longevity.
Recognize the special people you’ve been blessed
to know.  Live for today, enjoy the moment

May your Journey be Well Lived and Thoroughly Enjoyed!  Jane

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Life's a Teeter-Totter

One's up. One's down. Welcome to life's precarious teeter-totter!

Mom is actually doing well. Chemo Day was uneventful. Blood work looked pretty close to fine.  Platelets were actually higher than they were last week! Weight is up. Again. Yea! And nausea is a distant memory. Well, okay, not that distant, but at least not currently plaguing her.

And so, Round #2 of this Gemzar cycle is in the bag.

Just in time to take Dad to the doctor. He has the beginnings of pneumonia. Has felt rotten all day and can barely make it out of bed. It's chicken soup for him plus lots of antibiotics and steroids.

Thank goodness mom is feeling better. Her turn to be the giver of meds and plumper of pillows. And maybe, one day soon, they will both feel good - at the same time!

Hugs and Prayers Tonight, Jane

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Harvest Moon

Our Harvest Moon is Magnificent tonight!  Breathtaking light, silvering the landscape.

Capturing the etheral beauty on film escapes me, the splendor of the still night too far-reaching.

There is an ageless message in the changing of the sun to moon, of day to night, of life to death.  How utterly reassuring that even in the Harvest time of our life, God gives the promise of light, a luminescent lamp to guide our steps.  In Him there is truly no darkness...

Gifted this night with the blessing of Peace, Jane

Monday, October 10, 2011

Moments of Ordinary

Since pancreatic cancer has taken hold of our lives, it's often been a struggle to live in the moment.  To just enjoy the days as they unroll.  We hover.  We worry.  We wonder.  Will this be the last birthday, the last summer, the last vacation.... When days are bad, we automatically begin preparing for the worst.  When days are good, we sabotage the blessing with pondering how long the "feeling good" will last.

Cancer consumes.  Our bodies, our thoughts, our moments...

But.  Living in the now.  Loosening the grip of fearful anticipation.  That's hard.  Takes discipline, sheer will and buckets of grace.

And every now and then we are given that gift.  We forget that cancer is looming.  We are freed from the pressing worries and spirits soar.  Like this weekend.  Moments of ordinary.   Simple joys.

Dividing the Iris bed and spreading the prolific bulbs around the landscaping:

Discovering an unexpected bloom amongst the Autumn foilage.  A Re-Blooming Iris in October!

Splurging on White Chocolate Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake:

And enjoying the best, Feel-Good movie we've seen in ages:

Dolphin Tale

Take your family.  Take yourself.  The true story of a young dolphin who loses her tail in a crab trap.  A fatherless boy, a motherless girl and the people in their lives who join together with compassion to turn this tragedy into a triumph.  This movie will inspire.  Will take you to another place.  Where cancer takes a backseat to the sheer joy of living, not just surviving.  But Living.  With handicaps, with illness, with ordinary, less-than-perfect families.  Triumphing in the Living.

That's Living in the Moment.  Pure Grace. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Smile for Today

Racoon count rises to 37 with this "ferocious" little coon caught during the night!

Sweet baby coon going all Hulk on us!  Very impressive to say the least for the itty-bitty 2 lb thing!  We must look like some kind of scary monsters to her.  But oh, so much spunk and grit. 

Don't you worry little one.  You're on your way to meet up with all your brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and your worried mamma.

Deep Creek Bridge Reunion coming up!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Stepping off the Coaster

Mom has stepped off the "roller-coaster" and left her nausea behind! Yesterday was chemo day and the blessed infusions of Decadron (steroid) and Kytril (anti-nausea med). This stuff is the new Gold Standard in our books! Other good news to report, tumor marker has dropped again. To 301. And her weight is up by 2lbs! The feasting extravaganza from last weekend was a success! Praying for a repeat this coming week.

Continuing on the medical front, Dr. Davis has prescribed oral steroids (dexamethasone) and a new anti-nausea med (compazine) for mom to try at home this week. He is also increasing the Marinol, marijuana derivative, from once a day to twice a day. Oh, the wonders of drugs! But, of course, wonderful only when you're sick... We maintain the Just Say NO! campaign at all times in this family!! No sneaking the marijuana derivative from mom's medicine cabinet!!

Just say NO!

Besides mom needs all the marinol she can get - it does seem to be increasing her appetite and just might be helping with the nausea. So, Go Marinol! Although word is, it's cheaper on the streets, think Dad can cross on over to the dark side?

On a more serious note, I'm sure everyone has heard by now that Steve Jobs lost his battle with pancreatic cancer this week. Our prayers go out to his family as they begin even now to wade through the deep grief of his death.  It somehow feels like a personal loss to us. There's a built-in empathy with other pancreatic cancer sufferers. Common bonds form even when we don't know the person, a sort of cheerleading effect when we see other patients triumph. It's easy to be encouraged and think, if they can do it, I can too. But on the flip side, there's a keen, gut-wrenching disappointment when the cancer wins. Personal doubt. Struggle to make it not so personal. To not make comparisons with his weight loss, his gauntness. To distance ourselves from the loss.

His death is a reminder that this cancer is no respecter of persons. Rich or poor, young or old, black or white, there is no rhyme or reason to who it will strike. And even a brilliant visionary such as Steve Jobs was powerless to beat this disease, to find a cure for this most vicious of cancers.

My prayer is that his story will shed a light on all the thousands who are struggling to survive this cancer. Pancreatic cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, and roughly 40,000 new cases will be reported this year. The death rate for pancreatic cancer this year will reach 37,000 people. Unbelievably this statistic hasn't changed much in the last 20 years, nor have the treatments. Mom is being treated with the most effective chemotherapy available for pancreatic cancer, the same treatment that has been used for the last two decades. More research is imperative, more funding necessary to change these dismal statistics and give pancreatic cancer patients a fighting chance.

Steve Jobs life was extraordinary. As is Mom's life.   As is yours and mine. Each one precious. Don't take a minute, not even a second for granted.  This weekend is the perfect time to breath life in deeply. I'm thanking God for each blessing and every joy He's placed in our path...

May all your Weekend Wanderings be Sweetly Blessed , Jane

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hold Your Breath

A couple of years ago, mom and dad took the family to Six Flags. We had a blast. Kids were over the moon running from ride to ride. We laughed, we ate, we rode every ride.  Except for Mr. Freeze. We walked by it several times and watched.  It was the most horrific, convoluted, upside-down, super-fast roller coaster we had ever seen.

We listened to the screams of fear, and shook our heads, no, no, NO...

And then mom got a crazy look in her eye and said Yes.
What?!! Who are you and where have you taken my mother?!

But she insisted. She said, just watch... the ride is only 60 seconds long. We can hold our breath that long. How bad can it be?!!!! (If I had only known....)

So, we got in line. Couldn't let her do it by herself. Families stick together and all that stuff. Anyway, the closer we got to the coaster, the queasier we got. Especially when the cute little teen-ager running the ride smiled and insisted we take out our pierced earrings. Hello? Put them right in this box, she said. You can get them when you get out. Ok. Earrings in the box. Step into the caged coaster. Strap youself in. Get queasier. Watch the countdown for take-off.

3... 2... 1.......


I might have thrown up but the centrifugal force of the coaster defied bodily functions.

We blasted out of the station and hit 60mph in 6 seconds. Our heads rattled so hard against the caged cart that I was sure a concussion was imminent. If I could have put together a coherent thought I would have thanked the sweet, angelic teenager for making me take out my pierced earrings. She saved us from being impaled by our jewelry.

The ride lasted less than 60 seconds. I think. When the coaster stopped, I realized that I hadn't taken a single breath. Mom was right, I can hold my breath that long. I looked over at her and got another shock. Her hair was standing straight up and she was laughing. And kind of dizzy. And yes, very queasy.
But, boy was she a hero to all the grandkids.  Grandma rode Mr. Freeze. Medal-quality moment in their books.

If only we could return to that kind of queasy. The kind that goes away when you step off the roller coaster. The kind that is worth it because it means you took the dare and survived. You get to go home and live the rest of your life.

Instead mom has been plagued by the queasy, nauseous, vomiting pains of pancreatic cancer these past few days.   The relentless reminder that this cancer has dug in and is not giving up.  How we would go back in a heartbeat to that beautiful fall day, and ride all the rides. Laugh with joy. Feel the excited energy of an amusement park.  Eat cotton candy and corny dogs.  Dare each other to ride the scariest of rides.  Amaze ourselves with our extreme courage.  And make all the kids proud.

Sigh.... Cancer is not for wimps.
Mom is now riding the ride of her life. The scariest of rides. And she amazes us constantly with her extreme courage, makes us proud.  Always.

So, hold your breath and take out your earrings. The ride looks like it's gonna get bumpy.

Mom, we love you!  And we are riding in the seat right beside you.  Families stick together no matter what.  You are Medal-Quality in our Books!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Food, Glorious Food!

That would be the theme of this past weekend! Mom felt better than we can remember in recent weeks. What a gift. She received it with gratitude! And ate what she could to make up for lost time. What's that saying, you gotta make hay while the sun shines?! Sun was shining for a brief time and it felt good.

Let's see, there was the delicious seafood pasta,

 the yummy pumpkin bread,

 and the hearty meatloaf and mashed potato extravaganza.

Thank you to Ruth, Ann and Pat. Your meals were love wrapped up in calories!

Mom even felt well enough this weekend to grab an afternoon matinee with friends. They went to see the movie Contagion. Hello, haven't we had enough medical drama?!! I do believe she thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon out. And Saturday she laughed and ate with friends at a neighborhood soup-tasting social. There's nothing like being cooped up at home for weeks on end to give you a whole, new appreciation for everyday simple joys.

As the sun was sinking tonight, the old, familiar queaziness was making its return. Praying that its stay is brief and minimal. Perhaps Dr. Davis could order a continuous infusion of steroids and Kytril ;-) I don't think mom would look too bad bulked up a bit!

Thanking God for answered prayer, forever friends, and good days, My Love, Jane