Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Visitation

You know, I don't really choose what I am going to post; rather, the posts choose me. I find myself thinking of the same thing over and over and it doesn't go away until I write about it. This is especially true of this topic, which has been much on my mind for several weeks.

Continuing on our tour of rosary mysteries, today's stop is Mary's visit to her pregnant cousin Elizabeth. I am supposing that most of you are well familiar with this story, but I am going to summarize it anyway, as I have at least a few Jewish readers, one of whom told me he had learned some things about the New Testament from reading my blog. Plus, it never hurts to review, right?

When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she was to be the mother of the Messiah, he mentioned that her cousin Elizabeth was also expecting a child. Elizabeth was by all accounts too old to bear a child and had long been considered barren, so this must have been quite a surprise to Mary. However, given what she had already heard about her own conception, it was probably not as shocking as it might have been.

I'm quite sure that if I had been in Mary's place I would have barely heard the footnote about Elizabeth, so stunned would I have been by my own personal news. (Of course, this helps explain why God chose Mary and not me, but I digress...)

The very next thing we know, Mary is making haste for the hill country to visit Elizabeth. She did not pause to think of how she was going to navigate her own situation, how she was going to explain this to her parents, or what she was going to tell her fiance. Nor did she run around telling everyone the incredible news that she was the chosen one (again, I'm pretty sure I would have told at least one good friend or two). Instead, she raced straight to her cousin, to help her in her third trimester of pregnancy. Never mind that Mary was in her own first trimester with the Savior of the world and could have easily justified resting and protecting the life within her. Never mind that she was quite likely nauseous and fatigued herself. Mary did not waste a moment thinking of herself. She went to serve Elizabeth without question, and there she stayed for several months.

When Mary first arrived to attend to Elizabeth, her cousin was filled with Holy Spirit and said, "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." Of course, we find out later that the child Elizabeth is carrying, the one who leaped for joy at Mary's very presence, is John the Baptist, who prepares the way for Jesus.

You may be wondering, by this time, why this has been so much on my mind, why this is the mystery that I keep getting stuck on of late. Naturally, I am going to tell you.

I, who have always been one to stay fairly wrapped up in my own affairs and duties, and the needs of my immediate family, have been taught a great lesson by all of you, my friends and family. I have learned, through this journey, what true charity is and how it is practiced. I have become Elizabeth and all of you are Mary.

I am standing at the door of my hill country home, stunned that you should come to me with meals, cards, gifts and so very many prayers. In the threshold, I stare in disbelief at the pure generosity of you all, who give without thought to your own personal situations and concerns, just as Mary did.

Among those of you who have unceasingly cared for me and my family since this adventure began, not a one is without personal difficulties. In fact, the more I learn about what some of you are struggling with as you stir a pot filled with dinner for my family or write an encouraging note to me, the more amazed I am at your ability to put yourselves aside to minister to another.

Some of you have husbands who are, or are yourselves, unemployed. Some, though employed, are struggling with family businesses in this economic downturn or balancing a financial house of cards. One of you has been displaced completely from your home. Another is facing foreclosure. Still others are dealing with the illness of their parents, and some with their own illnesses. Several are experiencing trouble in their marriages or issues of infertility. I am particularly touched by those of you who are battling cancer yourselves and have taken time to prepare a meal or call to see how I am doing. As I am beginning to get my bearings now, I aspire to imitate you. And please know, the intentions of you all are in my daily prayers.

I naively once thought that those who helped others extensively as I am now being helped had lots of time on their hands or didn't have complications in their own lives. I understand now that the most generous of you are often the most battle weary. I must not wait for the elusive time when all my children are grown and my personal affairs are ordered to be charitable. Rather, it is something I must incorporate into every day.

As Mary came to Elizabeth despite her incredible burden/gift, so do you come to me. And as John the Baptist leaped for joy inside Elizabeth upon her arrival, so do I and my family when we hear the sound of your greeting.

Thank you. I am truly humbled.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Not long ago I was standing at the bottom of the stairs talking to a friend when Sam came running down crying because Tony hit him in the head with a toy car he had thrown.

I immediately called for Tony in my "you're in trouble and mom means business" voice.

Tony sprinted to the top of the stairs, gave me a completely exasperated look and said, "I was AIMING at Bella!"

(Those of you who personally know Bella will understand why Tony felt no further explanation was required.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Miracle in Progress

We had very good news at the doctor this morning.

Today's physical exam suggests that the primary breast tumor is just 30% of the size it was six weeks ago. Further, Dr. Glaspy expressed confidence that we would see similar significant progress in the liver when we get the results of my upcoming scan.

As I have mentioned before, Dr. Glaspy is a straight shooter, not one to give false hope. In the past when I have asked him for statistics and probabilites he has been reluctant to give them, or to even suggest that I am likely to have a happy ending (although he has certainly always allowed for that possibility). Therefore, it is his reaction to my progress that tells me the most about exactly how good this news is. After the appointment, Jay and I agreed that the best way to describe it was "suppressed giddyness". Indeed, he was smiling like the the cat who ate the canary as he anticipated the result of my scan, which literally flooded me with hope.

So far, I am feeling better than usual post-treatment. Maybe my body is adjusting to the medication? Or perhaps, like last time, it will hit me more significantly later in the week. Either way, it is nice to be awake right now to enjoy this good news.

It feels as if we just might be watching our miracle unfolding before us. Please keep those prayers coming, because they sure seem to be working!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

This and That

You know it was a very busy week when you are actually looking forward to the natural down time provided by your upcoming chemotherapy treatment...

It is California Mission time for Lindsey, so we have been helping her refine her paper and, most of all, complete the detail work on her mission mosaic. She could do the big areas herself but did not have the steady hand needed to get the glue brush into the small areas once there were materials already on the perimeter. Therefore, I personally smell like all the different kinds of spices we used to create the image of Mission San Fernando. As it turns out, red pepper flakes, coffee and cumin do not exactly form a tantalizing odor when combined. I can only imagine what the classroom is going to smell like when all the projects arrive tomorrow!

Coinciding with Lindsey's final mission weekend was the last weekend to complete Sam's Pinewood Derby car for Cub Scouts. The whole house smells like bondo (overwhelming even the combined spice smell) and I'm pretty sure I will never get the fine sawdust out of the cracks in the patio. But the Indy car design looks great, and Sam and Jay are both pretty proud of the work they have done. Let's hope it's as fast as it looks.

You may wonder why, if this was the final weekend for both projects, we did not complete one or the other ahead of time. Well, for one thing, we are procrastinators who really need a deadline to spur us into action. But that aside, Joey had a report on the Loma Prieta earthquake due Friday that consumed the week before. Needless to say, I am looking forward to a little "no project" time.

On an entirely different note, tomorrow's treatment is my third, so it is the last one I will receive before my next PET/CT scan. I don't have any scheduled treatments after this, as all decisions will be made based on the results of the scan. It should happen in the first or second week of February and will tell us a lot about how this medicine is working, and far more objectively than my own observations can.

After the scan I will know if I will continue on the study drug and perhaps have a better idea of how long. I will also know more about when and if a mastectomy is in my future. I am looking forward to the scan but am also a little nervous about it, as it is very easy for me to be positive right now while assuming that a cure is in process. If the results are not as good as I am hoping they will be, I will have a little adjusting to do. But adjust, I shall, to whatever the outcome may be.

Speaking of outcomes, I would like to say an enormous THANK YOU to all of you who clicked over to the Relay for Life page and donated to the Saints and Spirits Take Flight team. Virtually overnight your donations doubled our funds raised to date and we are now the leading team for the event so far. I am very excited about this and thank you all so much for your generosity and kind notes.

So, wish me luck tomorrow. May the cancer be horrified to see more of that T-DM1 arrive in its neck of the woods!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Relay for Life

I am truly delighted that my regular babysitter Alyssia has created a team in my honor for Lancaster's Relay for Life. This American Cancer Society event takes place April 17-18 at Quartz Hill High School.

The team is named "Saints and Spirits Take Flight". (For those of you not local, the Catholic Schools in our area are the Sacred Heart Saints and the Paraclete Spirits, so this team name signifies the families involved with both the K-8 parish school and the valley's Catholic high school.)

This is a 24 hour event where teams camp out at the high school football field in tents and take turns walking or running around the track. Each hour is covered by a team member, representing the fact that cancer never sleeps. The team as a whole raises money for cancer research.

At night, the track is lit by candles, each burning in honor of a donor's loved one who has fought or is still fighting this disease.

So many of you have asked what you can do to help me, so I put this information out here not to pressure you into donating or joining the team, but just so you know this is something you can do if so inclined.

If you follow this link, it will take you to our team's section of the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life site. There are options on this page to 'Join the Team' (a great thing to do if you are local and really want to get involved), 'Donate to the Team' (a wonderful thing for anyone who can do it, near or far) or 'Luminaria'. Luminaria is your opportunity to light one of those candles that burns all night for a specific person you may have lost to cancer or who is still fighting the fight.

I have gained so much from the research done on this disease so far. The tireless work of scientists and doctors could not take place without the donations of people like you and me. As I make my donation, I am thinking of how much more has to be done before my children don't have to fear this disease.

If you can, please join the Saints and Spirits. Anything at all is a help.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Happy Birthday, Lindsey!

Double digits. Unbelievable!

Lindsey, you are growing into an amazing young lady. You are caring and generous, funny and clever. I love your contagious enthusiasm and your passion for the things you care about.

I am blessed to be your mother and am so glad to share my days, my home, my life with you. Don't grow up too fast, because I am treasuring every moment.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Our family moved to Southern California from Marin County (just north of San Francisco) four and a half years ago. In doing so, we left behind some amazing friendships that we made and enjoyed over the ten years we lived in the quaint towns of San Anselmo and Fairfax.

While we lived there we developed a special relationship with four other families and spent lots of time together with them. It was one of those wonderful situations where the women are all friends, the men are all friends, and the children all get along too. Leaving this was the most difficult part of moving. However, as life has progressed for our various families, all but one moved away from the little towns and scattered from Canada and Oregon to Glendale.

This weekend one of those families, the only one remaining in Marin, came down to visit us. We get together pretty regularly, usually three or four times a year, and we always have a great time. Since their arrival late Thursday night I have especially been enjoying my dear friend Tina who I miss dearly.

Imagine my surprise as I arrived home after mass last night to find my good friends Melissa and Andrea waiting for me in my driveway in their pajamas with sleeping bags in tow. Now, Melissa lives in Glendale so it isn't all that unusual for me to see her, although since I wasn't expecting her it was a wonderful surprise. However, Andrea lives in Ashland, Oregon, so I was beyond stunned to see her. In fact, I could not believe my eyes. She had flown down that morning to surprise me and everyone knew about it except me.

I quickly learned that we were having a totally girly sleepover and that all the husbands had valiently stepped up to care for their many children so we could enjoy an evening together, plus lunch the next day. I was in heaven.

Imagine my further surprise when the doorbell rang just before we left for lunch today and it was Anna Lisa and her family, the last of the original five of us. They drove down from Santa Barbara today to get in on the surprise. It had been more than five years since we had all been together, and we got to spend all afternoon together today.

With neighbor Robin in tow (who got along with them all as if she had known them for years), we all went to lunch and spent three wonderful hours together. I cannot remember the last time I was so completely and delightfully surprised. I have really missed my friends!

If it wasn't for the whole "this could end badly" part of having cancer, I would have to say that it is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It is bringing my distant friends close and my close friends closer. It is cementing my immediate and extended family. It is bringing out the best in everyone I know, including me.

I would have never expected this. How surprising life can be!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Like a butterfly departing from its cocoon, so am I breaking free from the illness that characterizes my treatment week. The last two days I have been cautiously resuming my life and it feels great.

I am now settling comfortably into a pattern of life. It goes pretty much like this: 7 days of sleeping and just barely functioning, 7 days of "ramping up" to semi-regular activities like helping with homework and driving again (with plenty of rest and naps thrown in between activities), and 7 days of feeling almost completely normal with regular energy levels and lots of enthusiasm for all the things I did not get done during the prior 14 days. Then I begin all over again.

This is not so bad. I can definitely do this. To be quite honest, sleeping is not a terrible curse for a mother of seven who hardly ever gets enough under normal circumstances. Similarly, nausea is a really good diet plan for someone who has been meaning to drop the baby weight for about three pregnancies now.

Treatment weeks bring friends and family close, and this I treasure. Our guest room has hardly been empty since my diagnosis and I love it. I am being wrapped up in love and care from those around me so that I really can rest and I really can take my time ramping up to normal again. I am so blessed by this all.

I have been trying very hard to go to mass every day, as receiving communion is, in my view, medicinal as well as spiritually uplifting. In the bible, those who simply touched Jesus' cloak in faith were healed immediately, so how can meeting him in the Eucharist each day fail to assist in my healing?

I have found it difficult to get out of the house and to mass during treatment weeks. This problem has been solved beautifully for me, as Jay has now been trained as a Eucharistic Minister who brings communion to the sick specifically so he can bring me communion on days I cannot go. This is a beautiful thing for us both and I am so thankful to those at our church who supported us in making this happen.

Among other things I am grateful for is the fact that I am able to continue to cantor two out of three Sundays. When this first began I was fearful that I would be too ill to sing anymore at all, but as it is turning out I really can make it happen on the two "off" weeks. Yay!

So, there it is, life as I will experience it for the indefinite future. I am grateful for each day, and it shows in how I am spending my time. (I can't remember the last time I played so many board games with my kids!) Each day is clearer and more precious to me. The mundane is not so much anymore, and this is a really good lesson to learn, for anyone.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Feeling It

Yes, indeed, for the past few days I have been feeling as if I actually do have a serious illness. Most of the time I don't feel much more than tired and nauseous, but yesterday and today have been at a new level. Yesterday I slept 18 hours. Really. 18! I didn't know a person could sleep that much. Today I got out of bed only to shower, and was so weak and chilled by the end of it that I had to wonder if I wasn't better off grimy.

I learned at my last treatment that I am moderately anemic, so much so that there was some discussion as to whether or not treatment could proceed. Happily, my oncologist is all about killing cancer and he is on a mission with me, so he barely hesitated, slowing only to take another six buckets of blood from me to try to pinpoint the cause so he can treat it most effectively. Yes, I like this man. For those of you number folks or medical types, a healthy red blood range is 11 or 12 to 18 and mine has been steadily declining to its new low of 8.7. Apparently at 8.0 it becomes "severe" and lots of unpleasantries begin so we're hoping to hold her steady here. Probably not coincidentally, my oncologist is currently conducting a clinical trial on anemia during chemotherapy, so once again I am in the right place at the right time. Funny how this keeps happening, eh?

Happily, I am "feeling it" in another way too. My affected breast now feels so normal that I would not think to seek medical attention for it if I woke up with it for the first time today. In fact, I probably wouldn't even notice it unless I was pretty dilligent in a self exam. So, I may be feeling a wreck, but clearly so is the cancer. I believe the clock has been turned back on it somewhere in the neighborhood of 9 months in just four weeks. That's a miracle i'd willingly feel just about anything for.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Tales from the Infusion Room

It is easy for me to forget just how serious my situation is. Most of the time, I feel pretty normal and there is little external evidence of what is going on inside my body. My children keep engaged in all the little details of life, like school projects, sibling disagreements and constant clean up. If I wanted to, it would be all too easy to dive head first into complete denial about all of this.

This feeling ends completely when I enter the infusion room at my oncologist's office.

When I walk in and sit down, my first thought always is that there must be some mistake, as I most definitely don't belong in these surroundings. There is no way that I fit in with what I see: folks in wheelchairs, people either completely bald or with sporadic tufts of hair, patients with strange skin conditions. To be completely honest, it is frightening. Many of the patients receiving treatment around me look as if they are in their final months of life, and I'm sure many of them are.

At first I sit tensely in my chair, willing it all to be over. Then, as I begin to calm down, I start seeing more and listening to the conversations around me.

I see the other woman about my age with burns from her radiation, crying for an unknown reason as she waits for her chemotherapy to begin. I see another woman, again about my age, calmly eating her hamburger and chatting with her husband about everything mundane. I hear a woman who has been through way too much detailing all her medical ailments to her caregiver who listens attentively, although he must have heard all this a thousand times before. I see the man whose arms are covered with bandages from the half a dozen attempts it took to find a vein that wasn't fried from prior treatments. I chuckle at the attorney sitting right under the "no cell phone use in infusion room" sign arguing loudly on his phone over the terms of a settlement, and then repeating this at least six times while I am there.

I notice the staff, who has come to know each patient well, and knows just what to say to each person to entice a smile. I hear the patients as they support eachother, telling one another about what remedy has worked for them, or how much getting a port-a-cath has helped make their infusions better. I hear them give one another hope for a better drug, a better response, a better day. One tells me about lidocane spray so I don't feel it as much when they access my port. I am grateful.

I also see those who will not engage. Those who look as if they have already lost their battle and don't much care. I see one who is turned away from treatment because her white blood count is too low and she will not be able to withstand the drug. She is bitterly disappointed. These patients are the hardest to see.

No matter how good I am at convincing myself that I don't belong there, I have to accept that I do. As one friend put it, I am now a member of a sorority that I never pledged. It is important that I understand that my illness is no different than that of anyone in that room. In fact, there are really only two differences that I can perceive. First, I am newer to the journey than many of them. Second, I have faith and hope, and plenty of it. So many of them have lost both.

Although I will inevitably progress down the path of this disease and end up with war stories that they all have, I am determined that I WILL NOT lose faith or hope. I have much to hope for, after all! I plan to be the sunshine in that infusion room, the one with hope radiating from every pore, the one who put on her lipstick that day. Because hope is contagious, don't you think? And that's one disease I'd like to spread.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Back in the BarcaLounger

I am here in the infusion center, currently being observed after receiving my second treatment. Odd to have looked forward to something like this, I know, but I am thrilled to be dealing the cancer another blow.

If this cycle is anything like the last one, I can expect to sleep excessively for the next week to ten days and feel a bit like I have the flu. After that, I should feel a little better every day until I hit normal, about two weeks from today. Then, wait a week and start all over again. This will be my life for the next year or so, depending on how the cancer responds. And you know, it is a small price to pay for the possibility of getting my life back when it seemed not long ago there was little hope of this.

As I sit here I am struck once again by how fortunate I am in faith, marriage, family, friends,and doctors. When I have so much on my side, how can I lose?

Friday, January 01, 2010


The good news: my appetite is back! For the first time in several months I have been interested in eating again. This tells me (although this thought is not supported by any actual science, mind you) that my liver must be doing better, as I have always assumed that the appetite loss was associated with decreased liver function.

The bad news: also back are four of the fifteen pounds I have lost since my diagnosis. Just goes to show that nothing is ever purely good or purely bad, right? I guess if I had to pick I'd rather be on the chubby side with a healthy liver than skinny with a cancerous one, so all is probably right with the world.

Now all I need is my self-perceptions of healing to be proven out with a scan. Another month and we'll know something for sure. I can't wait!

While I wait, I wanted to ask those of you who are praying for me to also pray for my friend Dawn who was diagnosed with breast cancer the day before I was. We did not know eachother well when we both embarked on this journey but we are becoming good friends quickly due to shared circumstances.

Dawn is only a few years older than me and has six children. She homeschools (which is how I met her, through the Catholic homeschooling group). She had a localized lump which they have already removed with a masectomy, and she began chemo yesterday to take care of any free floating cancerous cells that may have escaped.

The irony of the situation is that although, on paper, her diagnosis and prognosis is far better than mine, her treatment will likely be worse. Her cancer is not HER2 positive so she cannot take advantage of T-DM1 or even Herceptin. Instead, she will be receiving the standard chemo drugs that will likely cause her to feel quite ill and lose her hair.

She is very much in my thoughts and prayers right now so I thought I'd share a little about her since you are all such amazing prayer warriors. She could use some of that amazing support, so please remember her especially this week as she adjusts to her treatment.

Thanks, and Happy New Year! I have a feeling 2010 is going to be a really special year.