Thursday, June 24, 2010

It's All Part of Nailing the Cancer, I Guess

I have had it pretty easy through this whole cancer thing. A little fatigue, a little nausea, some worst, it's been like the intense part of first trimester pregnancy. I recently told a friend that I have managed to contract the Disney version of Stage IV cancer, if there is a such a thing, and for this I am truly grateful.

HOWEVER, today I feel the need to log my first real complaint about all of this. This week, after treatment 10, my fingernails have suddenly betrayed me. I know, I know, you are thinking, "Seriously, is she really going to complain about her FINGERNAILS when she is giving cancer a fatal blow with minimal side effects?" Well, yes, I am. And then I'm going to feel ashamed about it later.

I have always had strong, long fingernails. This was true even before my pregnancies, but childbearing served to enhance their growth and strength further. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was proud of my fingernails, but I will say that I had come to comfortably rely on them as tools. I used them to pry things open, parse and cut things and generally make my life easier.

This has all ended for me. All of a sudden, my nails have begun bending backward, splitting to the quick and breaking off, from simple activities such as rotating the laundry or even reaching for my shoes. So, today, I mourned their loss and cut them all back to the quick. Sniff.

As I gaze at my stubby fingers or find myself reaching for a knife to do the job I once could do unassisted I will try my hardest to remember how lucky I am in all other aspects of this. But I'm allowed a brief mourning period for this small sign of my loss of health, aren't I?

I thought you'd agree.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Eyes Wide Open

As I was praying my rosary this morning (as you all know, that is when I have my "deep thoughts"), I was thinking about why Jesus was at first unrecognizable to his disciples after his resurrection.

Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was the gardener when she saw him outside of the tomb. The seven disciples by the Sea of Tiberius did not recognize him when he asked about their fishing. The men walking to Emmaus had a lengthy conversation with him about his own crucifixion without realizing it was him. It was only later that their eyes were opened and they all realized that they had been talking to the resurrected Jesus.

What could be the reason for this, I wondered? Why would so many not recognize right away and need their eyes opened for them to see what was right in front of them?

I did not wonder long before I knew the answer: Jesus is in all the people around us, whether we can see him or not. Often we need our eyes opened to see him, but he is there. Not in body, as was the case with the befuddled disciples, but just as real.

He is there in our spouses, our parents, our children, our friends. It is easiest to see him there, in those who are good to us or who treat us as we imagine Jesus would--with loving care and concern. But he is also in those who don't treat us as they should. Those who drive us crazy, those who we judge.

Our eyes are opened to his presence in these difficult people when we allow ourselves to see. We see the opportunities these people provide us to work on our patience, our compassion, and our Christian kindness. We see the needs that these people have that cause them to act the way they do, needs that we can often help fill. The need for acceptance, love, or understanding. When we see these thing, we see Jesus in everyone, and our eyes are opened.

Is this easy? Of course not! It is nearly impossible. But nothing is impossible with God. Lord, may my eyes be opened to see.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Further Evidence I'm Failing Completely As A Parent

Joey: I'm bored.

Me: Don't ever say that in this house or you'll quickly find yourself doing manual labor.

A pause...

Joey: OK, then. I'm unsatisfied with today's entertainment.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Scan results just came in...

I am stable, with virtually no change from prior scan. This is fantastic news--may I continue to enjoy this kind of news for decades to come.

It is always nerve-wracking waiting for scan results, but this time was worse than usual. About two weeks ago I discovered a new lump in my breast, similar to and in the same location as the most stubborn one I had before. I was hoping it was all in my head, but my nurse practitioner confirmed it and sent me for scans right away, a week and a half ahead of schedule.

I did not share this news with anyone, as I did not want to take the people who love me and suffer along with me on a roller coaster ride of worry and waiting. I figured bad news wouldn't go away, so I could share it when it was confirmed rather than suspected, thereby alleviating some stress for those who I so hate to hurt. As you all know, I am usually quite open so it was nearly as difficult for me to keep my mouth shut about all of this as it was to wait, but I am glad I did. See how much worry I saved you all?

So, when the results came in today with no metabolic activity or masses noted, it was not what I expected at all, and it would be difficult to exaggerate the relief that flowed through me upon hearing the news. I was prepared for all sorts of things--new, nastier chemo, immediate surgery, short life-span, you name it. I had not even considered "stable scan" as one of the likely outcomes, so I am nothing short of delighted.

As for the lump? I don't know for sure what it is, but since it appeared at the same time I came out of my chemically-induced menopause, it is likely hormonal in nature. Perhaps it is scar tissue from the previous mass that will flare up monthly. Perhaps it is necrotic tissue that is settling. Whatever it is, it is not cancer, and I feel as if I have been given a new chance at life all over again.

This scare has been good for me. Over the past few months of good news, I have slowly come to take for granted that I am on a path to being cured. It is never good to feel confident about something like this, and I have been shocked into remembering this. I am back to being supremely grateful for each nine week block of "good scan" and not looking toward anything else. I am more thankful than ever for my faith, and I thank God above all for this good news.

I will always worry that the cancer is returning--I will live in it's shadow forever, no matter how well I am doing. Any pain I have is cause for concern, and any lump or swollen lymph node will be a major drama. But as long as my faith remains strong, I will not be afraid. Concern is quite different than fear, as it is productive. I can watch for early signs, take better care of myself and continue on my medication because I am concerned about my health. But fear, which is pointless, is not part of my plan--and this is a fruit of faith.

Thanks for your continued prayers for my healing. They are obviously working!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

What A Blessing!

Today our parish community gathered together outside in a ground blessing mass on the property recently acquired for our new church building. And what a blessing it was.

An estimated 2500 people attended what we believe to be the largest mass the Antelope Valley has ever had. Four priests concelebrated, three deacons and our pastoral intern served the mass, and voices and instruments from all four of our diverse music ministries joined together as one. The Knights of Columbus turned out in full regalia, adding to the ceremony of it all. It was nothing short of exhilarating.

And hot. But back to the exhilarating part...

Each parish family in attendance brought with them a small jar filled with dirt from their own home. As the gifts were being prepared, the families came up one by one and poured their dirt into a large clay jar. This dirt, representing the individual families that make up our church, will be used in the foundation of the new building. I was brought to tears many times during the mass, but most decidedly while watching these families, many of whom I know so well, offer their piece of the church's foundation. I am a sucker for symbolism, and this mass was chock full of it.

The very best part I did not even see--it was later reported to me by several who had seen it. At the moment of the consecration, three white doves flew over the altar. It seemed, to those who witnessed it, that it must have been planned, so perfectly timed it was. Indeed, it was planned, but not by those who arranged for the mass! Hearing about it gave me chills. Indeed the ground has been blessed today.

I can't wait to see the new church take shape. In the meantime, it's not just the ground that has been blessed--it is all of us who are part of this historic event.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


On my way to UCLA on Monday my doctor called me. This is highly unusual, particularly since I had an appointment to see him 30 minutes from then. I didn't figure it could be for any good reason and, indeed, it wasn't.

He proceeded to tell me that he had just learned from the medicine manufacturer that there had been a contamination of silicone in all the medicine of a particular lot, the lot that all of my doses so far had come from. Kindly, he explained that the amount of silicone I received intravenously was 100 times less than the amount known to be toxic to humans but, of course, he had to let me know since it was an unexpected ingredient and because it is probably not generally a good idea to send unregulated silicone coursing through one's circulatory system.

Naturally, I questioned him as to what I might expect, what I should look out for, etc. He did not really know but assured me that any physical complaint I have will be looked at carefully for its possible involvement with this. Bottom line is, he doesn't really expect me to be affected by this one way or the other but did need to let me know.

Later, when I saw him in the office, he half-jokingly said that he hoped it wasn't the silicone that had caused my tumors to shrink. He went on to explain that, really, oncology was all about injecting people with toxic chemicals in the hopes that they will kill the cancer without killing the patient. So, there is nothing revolutionary about being infused with silicone, even accidentally, and perhaps it has even contributed to the positive effect this medicine has had one me. In fact, he went so far as to ask the manufacturer to hold rather than discard this lot in case the efficacy drops with the removal of the silicone. Educated trial and error, that's what it all is at the end of the day.

As for me, I am not alarmed in the slightest about this turn of events, simply because of what my alternative is. Would I have skipped receiving this medicine if I had known? NO! Would I stop taking it now because I think the manufacturer might make a similar mistake? NO! This medicine is not a "nice to have". It is keeping me alive, additives and all, so I have no beef. As part of his legal obligation to me, my doctor had to formally ask me if I now wished to be removed from the trial. I actually laughed.

So, I am now thinking of all the great things that might come of having a body full of silicone. Well-oiled joints? Veins like slip-n-slides? A heart that just got a great lube job? Who knows? But it's kind of exciting to be a guinea pig.