TWO HORSES

canstock16119189Working on my book today, I came across this blog post from July 28, 2010. It brought back memories of several co-workers whose cancer diagnoses came on the heels of my own. The story I included in my post is one I believe I found online. The author is unknown, but it carried a powerful message for me at that time. Both of these friends have since passed on, but the bond we developed through our cancer journeys is one I will always remember.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 28, 2010

Who knew? Who knew when I was diagnosed with cancer 9 months ago that it would just be the beginning of the cancer attack on my work family.

Last week, I asked for prayers for a good friend, just recently diagnosed. Today, another. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is such a devastating blow. You have all kept me going through your prayers and support. I would like to offer that same support to those who are close to me.

I came across this story the other day…

TWO HORSES

“When I was a young boy in Idaho, I remember there was a field with two horses in it. From a distance, each horse looked like any other horse. But, if you stopped your car, or walked by, you noticed something quite amazing. Looking into the eyes of one horse you would have discovered that he is blind. His owner had chosen not to have him put down, but had made a good home for him. If you stood nearby and listened, you would hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you would see that it came from the smaller horse in the field. Attached to the horse’s halter was a small bell. It let the blind friend know where the other horse was, so he could follow. As you stood and watched these two horses, you’d see that the horse with the bell was always checking on the blind horse, and that the blind horse was listening for the bell. He would then slowly walk to where the other horse was, trusting that he would not be led astray. When the horse with the bell returned to the shelter of the barn each evening, it stopped occasionally and looked back, making sure that the blind friend wasn’t too far behind to hear the bell. I like to think that, like the owner of these two horses, God does not throw us away just because we are not perfect or because we come with problems or challenges. He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need.

Sometimes we are the blind horse, being guided by the little ringing bell of those who God places in our lives. And at other times we are the guide horse, helping others to find their way.” – Author unknown

How perfect!!

Later.

LUCKY SEVEN

img_4480I had my six month check-up at the Cancer Center yesterday…met my new oncologist….my third since this journey began. She’s good. She’s nice. I like her. She’s no Dr. Doddabele, but then no one is.

And, the good news is…everything looks great. My labs were good. My general health is excellent. There is no sign of cancer.

This was particularly great news because TODAY is my seven-year Cancerversary. SEVEN years ago today I started on a journey that changed my life forever. I am not going to make this a long. drawn-out post about all that has happened over these past seven years. I realize that, to the rest of the world, this is just another day. But Ken and I celebrate this day, October 22, every single year now. It represents another year of life that I have been given. It reminds me of just how far I have come and how much I have to  be thankful for.

I walked into the Cancer Center yesterday and was blown away by the number of people who greeted me with smiles and told me how great it was to see me again. As crazy as it sounds, it is like coming home once every six months. I spent so many, many hours there in the beginning and met so many kind, caring and talented people while on this journey. I could not have made it this far without them and without my friends and family. They were all so instrumental in supporting me and lifting me up so that I could reach this milestone today…seven years.

And, because it is so important to me and to Ken, I just wanted to take a few moments to share the excitement with the rest of you.

fightNow…just one more thing. My cancer diagnosis was totally unexpected. I had no idea when I showed up at Mercy Medical Center back on October 22, 2009, that there might be a problem. My doctor had no idea either. My cancer was found unexpectedly on a routine mammogram. This is breast cancer awareness month. If you, or someone you care about, is due for a mammogram, please get it done. Do that for me. Do it for yourself and everyone you care about. It could save your life. Take it from one who knows.

Later.

Turning 60

We have a book on our coffee table that I wrote several years ago. When I was turning 60, I was determined that I would not make it a “dark day” as so many others I know have dIMG_2269one, but a celebration of life. We planned a big get together in northern California and rented a vacation home overlooking the ocean. It was a great time and Ken, Sue and Ron all followed suit in various locations when their time came to “turn 60.” The book is actually a compilation of photos from those trips as well as meaningful quotes, etc. It makes me smile every time I look through it.

Today, I turn 69. Where have those years gone? So much has happened in our lives during those nine years. And, today I celebrate our victory over those things. It is not with a fancy beach vacation but, sometime life’s greatest celebrations are the small ones.

This is probably going to sound silly to many, but, for whatever reason, I have always wished that I were a runner. I’m NOT a runner-never have been, but I admire those who are. The last time I decided to try my hand at running was about 30 years ago. I bought some shoes and went our for a run in our neighborhood. It was cold out and I ended up sucking in so much cold air that I got pneumonia. Yep. I’m not a runner – or any other kind of athlete for that matter. But, I still, to this day, WISH that I were a runner. So, this morning, on my 69th birthday, I laced up my shoes and went out for a run. Now, mind you, I am using that term loosely. It ended up being more of a run/walk, but, the point is, I DID it. I celebrated my 69th birthday by doing something, in my own way, that I really wanted to do. Ken and I both, during these past nine years, have learned that life is a gift. It is something to be cherished, used responsibly and celebrated. Birthdays are something to look forward to – not to be dreaded.

So, that said, I now have a full year to figure out how to celebrate that next big milestone on the horizon. Game on.

 

CONSIDER THE FLOWERS…

It seems like I know so many people who are on their own cancer journey right now, and I couldn’t help but think of them when I came across this blog post I wrote back in April of 2010. It had been a particularly long and harsh winter that year. Snow, cold and then more of the same…over and over. But when it ended…this. IMG_2042

I felt I wanted to share it again in hopes that it might bring comfort to some who are going through trials of their own right now.

THURSDAY, APRIL 8, 2010

Shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer, someone said to me that, as hard as it was to imagine at that moment, I would come through this experience a stronger and better person. I thanked them but assumed it was another one of the things that people say to try to make you feel better when there really is nothing much they can say. However…

Ken and I were outside looking at all of the spring-flowering bulbs coming up the other day and I couldn’t help but think about how ironic it is that, in spite of an unusually rough hard winter, the bulbs weathered it well, and, in fact, appeared stronger than ever. There are more of them…more of them are blooming…and the tulips seem to have more buds than ever before. In spite of being buried under 3 feet of snow for months on end, they are now making their presence known in a way they never have before. Could this be what that person was referring to?

I too have gone through some long, trying months but have managed to weather the storm so to speak. I am dealing with things I never imagined I could deal with and, as difficult as it is some days, I am holding up. In retrospect, I think maybe I am a stronger person than I was before my diagnosis.

Last week, while waiting in the blood draw area at the Cancer Center, I met a lady who must be the epitome of “strong”. She has breast cancer as well and she told me that she had been in remission for 11 years but her cancer had recently returned and she was back on chemo. I almost cried for her. I said that I couldn’t imagine how disheartening that must be. She said, you just do what you gotta do. Funny, because whenever people ask me how I can manage to be so strong in the midst of all this, that is pretty much what I say. It is what it is. I’ve often wondered how I would react to finally making it through all of this…to finally reach the end of that tunnel and then have it come back. I’m not sure I would be able to handle it. But, this lady is. And, so do many others. I think they, and I, just draw on a strength that we have within us when the time comes that we need it. That is what my flowers did over the winter. And, that is what I have to do now to get through the final 8 treatments in chemo round 2 and then the subsequent 9 months of chemo round 3 and radiation.

I don’t want to spend the better part of my day at the Cancer Center tomorrow…but I will. And, I will do OK. And, whatever side effects come my way this week, well, I’ll handle those too. Because I have no choice, obviously, but also because I am becoming a stronger person all the time. Just like someone told me I would. I see that now.

Later.

Fast forward to six years later. I am healthy, a much stronger person and living life reimagined. 🙂 To all of you just hanging on and putting one foot in front of the other to make it through each day, hang in there.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD

When I set out to do my best to reinvent retirement, it never occurred to me that one of the things this would involve would be our eating habits. I mean, ever since I was diagnosed with cancer I have focused on healthy eating. But, over the last several months, we have entered a new adventure of experimenting with the Paleo lifestyle. We are not fanatics by any means, but lean toward this lifestyle whenever possible. And what is fun is that both Kelli and Matt are doing the same thing so we are constantly texting and sharing recipes. The last couple of nights have been phenomenal.

First Kelli shared a recipe she made that sounded so good it turned out that we and Matt and Sara both tried it on the same night…Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Zucchini Noodles. IMG_2034It was unbelievably good and we will definitely make it again. It is Zoodles with a sweet red pepper and goat cheese sauce to which we added broiled garlic shrimp.  What’s not to like…right?

Tonight we experimented with a recipe that Matt sent…Buffalo Chicken Casserole. Crazy good and unlike anything we have tried before. It is spaghetti squash with chicken, veggies and eggs plus HOT SAUCE.IMG_2037

It is so uplifting to have the time to research and experiment with new cooking venues. I love to cook. I love knowing exactly what is going into my body. I love that Ken is getting into not only experimenting with new healthy lifestyles but also is getting into assisting with the process. It is healthy and it is social. It is FUN!! I may, from time to time, share additional recipes that we experiment with. It is a NEW twist on life. It is another example of Reinventing Retirement.

Later.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES

Back to work, and reliving January 15, 2010. I had completely forgotten the highs and lows of that day and the incredible outpouring of love and support which followed. Friends and family are amazing!! But the words of one person in particular were exactly what I needed to hear and I carry those words with me to this day. Another excerpt from The Tunnel Revisited.

blog quote smallJanuary 15, 2010, was, I believe, the only day during this entire journey that took me from sky high to a new low in the course of just a few hours and was the only day on which I felt lead to post twice in one day. The outpouring of support which I received regarding the second post was amazing and, one comment in particular offered me words which I carried through the entire journey ahead. In fact, I carry these words with me to this day and share them often. So many, many people, in an effort to comfort, tell you that God will not give you more than you can handle. While there is certainly truth to that, when you are going through some dark, dark days that knowledge can be hard to swallow. You wonder what you did to be given this. But, the highlighted quote in the second post below put a whole new spin on these words and was an extreme comfort to me. Thank you, John Pehrson!!

 

 FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 2010

When you’re healthy and you basically feel good every day, you don’t even appreciate the fact that you feel good. Anyway, I never did. But, when you only are blessed with a few “feel good” days out of every two week period, you quickly learn to appreciate them.

I stole a few hours to go into my office today in spite of the fact that I was on “Precautions.” Sue and Sandy went in before I got there and completely disinfected every surface. Thanks so much!! And people were very good about standing well outside the door to say hi if they had any signs of a cold, etc. It was funny how many people were amazed by how good I look (in their words) and I believe that is due to what I was referring to above. I am so appreciating feeling good today that it shows. I have two more days to feel this way now before I have chemo again on Monday.

Also, it felt so good just to be back in my element…my office. I work with so many good people and I didn’t get to see anywhere near all of them but those I did get to visit with just made my day. You guys are great.

This was the first time I drove a car in a month. Negotiating intersections with gigantic snow banks which block your vision is certainly no picnic and I quickly saw that I hadn’t missed anything in that regard.

No big news today. Just getting ready to enjoy my week-end. Monday is chemo. Tuesday, the shot after chemo and Wednesday, the visit with the surgeon so lots of medical stuff next week.

Later.

 

 FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 2010 (2nd post)

OK…all that talk about how well I am handling this and how strong I am, etc, etc, etc, is out the window. I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING ANYMORE.

I just got a call from my oncologist telling me they are cancelling my chemo for Monday and until further notice. I have thyroid cancer and that has now taken priority over treating the breast cancer. He said it is imperative that we move forward and remove this tumor before it spreads and we can’t do that if I continue chemo.

I am dumbfounded. Does that mean the last month was a waste? I don’t know. I just have to wait until I meet with the surgeon on Wednesday to see what he has planned for my life and then go from there.

Later.

 

COMMENTS

“Cathy…I’m so sorry!! This seems to be a big bump in your road. We are all thinking of you! Stay strong. Luv you!!” – Jen

“What you are doing is taking one day, one hour, one breath at a time. YOU CAN DO THIS! This is why God made you strong. Take a deep breath and focus on beating this.The last month taught you that you can do anything – that lesson was not wasted on you. The truth is, the last month may have just given you the strength to get through the next.Feel good tomorrow. Don’t let this tumor rob you of your feel good days. Your spirit is bigger than that tumor. Go forward. Our prayers go with you.” – Kari

“I am in shock as I am sure you guys are. I was ready to send you a high give for the day when Jennifer called and asked if I had read your second post today – which I had not seen. I wish that you didn’t have to wait until Wednesday to see the surgeon – that seems like a long time. I woke up this morning with a cough, sinus, laryngitis thing so I don’t dare come over to see you but we are both praying so hard for you every day. I honestly don’t know how you are dealing with all of this but I know that you are finding a strength deep inside of you that maybe you never knew that you had until now and the thoughts and prayers of a lot of people are right there with you. Hang on tight – there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” – Marilyn and Russ

“Hi. The sun is shining so enjoy. We may not have many of these days. Just a little crack in the road. Get it done and keep going. Don’t think about tomorrow. Just enjoy the day you have today. It was so good to see you and see how well you are doing. You are a survivor. Keep up the good work.” – Barb

“No question, this puts a feeling of being in the pits. On the wall in my study is the saying, ‘God doesn’t give us what we can handle. God helps us handle what we are given’. Even in the depths of bad news and struggle, it is possible to see hope and find peace. Judy and I continue to keep you in our prayers. We hope that knowing others are praying for you can give you a sense of God’s presence and courage for this day and in the days to come.” John and Judy

“The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you. I know he is opening some doors right now that you wish you didn’t have to go through. Know that he is with you every step. You are in my thoughts and prayers.” – Cindy

“Please stay strong – your ability to relate all of this proves your courage. We’re inspired by you and wish you continued bravery.” – Mike

“Cathy. It was so good to see you last week. You looked GREAT!!!! We all needed to see you and talk to you and to hear about your good days and the other days that you have faced. Please continue to stay positive, be brave and have courage.” – Fred

“Dear Cathy – Lindsay and I continue to keep you in our thoughts and prayers. This truly has been a bumpy road for you but I know you can get through it. You are a special person and you have to many wonderful family and friends that are here for you. Take care and our love to you and Ken both.” – Donna and Lindsay

“Cathy – we’ll be thinking about you tomorrow and praying that all your questions are answered. Kari is right – the last month has taught you and all of us, just how strong you are. You can do this.” – Jean

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

As I awaited the results of this latest biopsy, I was unaware that a huge bend in the tunnel lay just ahead. This bend would temporarily shatter my belief that I was invincible and that all of this stuff I was going through was just a temporary inconvenience.

 

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 13, 2010

 

So, prior to my biopsy I was told by several doctors that it was highly unlikely this would turn out to be cancer. In fact, there was a 90+% chance that it would be benign. So, why was I not surprised this morning when the Endocrinologist called and said there were problems with my pathology report?

Here’s the deal as I understand it. The biopsy showed follicular cells in the tumor. Follicular cells apparently are almost impossible to get a good read on whether they are benign or malignant but the fact that they exist greatly increases the odds of the tumor being cancerous. Therefore, they will have to remove my thyroid because the risks of not doing so are too great. There is apparently a slight chance that it could be some rarer form of cancer, so I will have a blood test on Monday when I go in for chemo to determine whether or not that is the case.

I meet with a surgeon next Wednesday and I assume will find out then when I will be having surgery.

Cathys TunnelSo, one more bend in that tunnel. I am really looking forward to the day when I can hit a straightaway. Then at least, even though it is long there will be a chance to see a pinpoint of light at the end. For now, I’ll hold fast to the song that started this blog…

“There’s a light at the end of this tunnel

There’s a light at the end of this tunnel

For you, for you

There’s a light at the end of this tunnel

Shining bright at the end of this tunnel

For you, for you

So keep holding on.”

 

Pray for the people of Haiti.

Later.

Jake Olson

Working on my book this morning, I was reminded of the story of Jake Olson, the then, 12 year old boy who had just had surgery to remove his cancerous right eye. Oddly enough, that was a story I needed to be reminded of right now.

I have been a bit down since my eye appointment last week. It was the 6 month check-up following my cataract surgeries last summer. If you recall, both I and my eye doctor were ecstatic with the results at that time. While not the 20/20, no glasses needed, results that many achieve, he was able to correct my vision to 20/30, with glasses, the best it has been in years. So, I was devastated, last week, to discover in that short time, my vision had deteriorated back to the point where I could read nothing on the chart with my right eye. He took photos of the macula in both eyes and turns out that both have deteriorated again – especially the right. He scheduled me for an appointment with the retina specialist so now I wait. According to my eye doctor, there is a strong chance that I have developed fluid in the right eye. Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 60 but there are two forms – dry and wet. While Dry Macular Degeneration can definitely affect the quality of your vision, it seldom causes central vision loss. I have been dealing with that form for years. Only about 10% of people with Dry MD advance to the wet form which is when abnormal blood vessels form and leak blood and fluids into the retina. Those abnormal blood vessels eventually form a scar which results in permanent loss of central vision. There are treatment options to slow the progression but no cure. The idea of that possibility has been weighing heavily on my mind for the past week.

So this morning, as I recounted the Jake Olson story in my book, I was reminded of the quote “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet.”  As I mentioned earlier, Jake Olson was 12 years old in December of 2009 when he had surgery to remove his cancerous right eye. What I didn’t say was that he had lost his left eye to cancer when just an infant. So, at the age of 12, he was completely blind.  Jake wrote a book at the age of 8 to help other children battling cancer. He has met many, many challenges head on and has been featured on countless network news broadcasts and in many documentaries. jake olsonNow 18 years old, he is a motivational speaker, plays on his high school football team, enjoys skiing, surfing and playing guitar and has a personal goal of becoming the first blind golfer to join the PGA. WOW!

I needed that.

Later.

Christmas, 2009

ChristmasStorm1225halfblockeastl-1164215_lgA major Christmas blizzard spanning 4 – 5 days back in 2009,  dropped approximately 21 inches of snow, blown around by wind gusts approaching 50 miles per hour. This massive storm punctuated the beginning of my cancer treatment, pointing out to me, in no uncertain terms, that, not I, but a much greater force was to be in control of my destiny.

The snow was just beginning to fall as I walked into the Cancer Center on December 22, 2009, to receive my first chemo treatment following surgery for Breast Cancer. This on the heals of just finding out that a PET scan had shown a possible abnormality in my thyroid as well. I would have a biopsy in early January to determine the status of that.  These storms of both nature and my personal life at the time, were reflected in my Christmas Day post back then. In re-reading it while working on my book, I decided that this might be an appropriate time to share that post from six years ago.  Hopefully it will act as a reminder to us to always hold onto hope in the midst of life’s biggest storms.

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 25,2009

Merry Christmas, all! What a different Christmas it has been. The weather…what about that? It certainly has thrown a monkey wrench into lots of people’s plans. We were fortunate. Kelli and Brett had originally planned to drive home right before Christmas but decided to come a couple of days early to be with me for my first chemo treatment. That meant they were here safe and sound before the first snowflakes fell. Michelle and the kids, of course, live here in town so they headed over early yesterday bringing all of their stuff with them and just moved in. So, we had a big slumber party last night for Christmas Eve.

It was the first time in many, many years that I was unable to host the big Christmas Eve bash for Marilyn, Russ, Jen and the kids and anyone else who happened to be in town. That made me sad. But there will be others.

We missed Matt and Sara, too, but are happy knowing they are safe and sound and enjoying Christmas with their Denver family. They will begin a new adventure on Sunday as they load up a moving truck and move to their new home in the mountains.

This morning, I woke up a little after five with a really raspy cough. Got up for a bit but then was able to go back to bed and sleep for a couple of hours before getting up feeling much better. Only minor nausea. We were just getting a late start on opening gifts when the power went off…what a strangely old fashioned feeling that brought an unexpected peace to our Christmas morning.

Unfortunately, at some point, my mind strayed back briefly, to Christmas 15 years ago when my Dad had just received his cancer diagnosis. The day after Christmas,we took off for Denver to help them prepare to move back to Iowa to begin treatments. As we took down their beautiful Christmas decorations, we had no idea that it would be for the last time. That was Dad’s last Christmas. And, given the uncertainty of my diagnosis right now, I realize I could be in that same position, though, every part of my being refuses to believe that. When Christmas, 2010 rolls around, I plan to be approaching the end of my chemo treatments and preparing to begin radiation. Still, just in case, my plan was to enjoy this Christmas to the fullest, and I have. I’m trying to not focus on the upcoming thyroid biopsy and how that result might change the course of my life.

As far as I’m concerned, if it turns out to be cancer, that will just be another bend in this tunnel. I will deal with that when and if it happens. For now, I cannot yet see that light at the end of the tunnel, just as we’ve been unable to see across the street due to the heavy snow, but I can see the lights of Christmas all around me, reflecting off the huge drifts of snow and sending a comforting reminder of the Christmas miracle. It has been a different Christmas, to be sure, but a wonderful one in its own way.

In the words of Tiny Tim, God bless us everyone.

The Voice Update

sara dIn an update to my post from last week, I have come across some new information regarding Sara Davenport. As you may recall, Sara is a beautiful, spunky young lady who grew up here in Sioux City. A good friend of my son, Matt, Sara was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in January of 2014. Following surgery and months of treatment and recovery, this thirty something was finally able to return to enjoying life to it’s fullest. Then, this past November she discovered a lump on her neck. A biopsy determined that she now has lymphoma.

Sara must now undergo 6 months of heavy chemotherapy, which is already taking its toll.  Sara is a chef and because of the physical nature of her work and the risk of complications to her immune system from a simple cut, her doctors have said she cannot work. So she really needs our help! Friends have set up a fundraising site to help her with the expenses she is rapidly incurring. If you are able and so inclined, here is a link to her page.  And again, prayers are always welcome as well as the simple act of sharing this post to help spread the word.

Now, an update on Becky. Thanks to the generosity of people like you, more than $12,000 has been raised to help this young mother as she makes her way through treatment. The link to her page again is here.

Thanks so much for reading and for caring. And, remember – you can help. Share – share – share.

Later.