Sunday, August 24, 2014

Not Just For Me...

I want to thank all of you for your complete support and encouragement during my "small moment" (adversity and affliction - refer to first blog).  You have given me great joy and comfort through your prayers, thoughts, service, and love.

After I finished chemo treatment, I heard horror stories about radiation.  A few people told me it was worse than chemo, especially if it was the last part of the treatment plan so I tried REALLY hard to get out of it.  Since the surgery went so well and they were able to get everything out and clear the margins, I asked the doctor if radiation was necessary.  The radiation oncologist told us, without radiation, there was a 30-40% chance of the cancer returning.  With radiation, there was a 10% chance of it returning.  They won.  Here I am one day post-radiation treatment completion and guess what?  It wasn’t hard at all…it was a breeze.  I was anticipating a very difficult six weeks and only had one day of down time due to discomfort.  My radiation oncologist told me it wasn’t that bad and she thought I would get through it just fine, but I wasn’t quite convinced.  At my last appointment, she said people don’t believe her when she tells them it’s not that bad.  I had also been considering going to acupuncture as I heard that would help with the side effects and my doctor suggested I wait a couple weeks to see how I felt.  I’m glad I did, because she was right, and she saved me some money.

Our six weeks here in Seattle couldn’t have been more perfect.  The weather was wonderful.  I think I can count on one hand how many times it rained.  I really wasn’t looking forward to the Seattle rain and grey skies during my stay.  I love the sunshine.  It lifts me up.  It made the five day a week drive from Arlington to Seattle and back very pleasant.  Plus, Jim and Jamie were able to take turns driving.  Sometimes all of us would go, and that made the trips more fun.  In addition to the drive being very pleasant, the staff at SCCA was amazing.  They are so uplifting, kind, and encouraging.  They always have smiles on their faces, greeting us with a warm welcome.  Jim kept busy making homemade filled chocolates for the staff in the radiation oncology department.  He made ganache, cherry, nectarine, blueberry, strawberry, caramel, and caramel nut.  Of course we had to sample them and they were delicious.  The staff was happy for me on my last day; however, they were also sad because they said they would miss us, but we think it was really the chocolates.  

We thought we would have so much time while we were here, but it just flew by.  In fact, we were going to write in the blog more often but, as you can see, you only get one.  We kept a pretty busy schedule driving to Seattle every day but, on top of that, I went to all of Jamie’s Zumba classes before my appointments which I believe helped me to feel so great during radiation.  We also met up with many friends.  In fact, I had a friend I hadn’t seen in over 40 years contact me, and Jim and I were able to meet with him and his wife a couple times.  We played mahjong, a Chinese tile game our nine year old grandson, Steven, loves to play.  We planned menus, did a lot of grocery shopping, cooking, and eating.  Fortunately, it’s crab season so, thanks to good friends, we had a lot of crab over the last month and a half.  Yum!

As a patient of SCCA, my family and I were able to participate in a couple of events donated by organizations and people in the community.  We attended a Seattle Storm game on breast health night and they recognized those affected, their families, caregivers, health staff, and pretty much everyone associated in some way.  We had a great time, it was a great game, and they won!  Today, we went on a schooner and sailed around Lake Union.  It was our celebratory sail.  The weather couldn’t have been more perfect.  There were kayakers, paddle boarders, seaplanes, and all kinds of boats.  We really enjoyed looking at all the houseboats, including the one in Sleepless in Seattle.  It was cool seeing the bridge open and close for our sailboat.  I’m sure the cars weren’t very happy about having to wait, but we were grateful to explore.  

I have always believed everything happens for a reason.  Now I would like to share with you, what I believe, is the crowning glory of my journey.  It’s completely different than what I could have ever imagined and than what you are probably expecting.  

Jim never knew his father.  He disappeared before he was born, and he was told his father didn’t know about him.  His mother never wanted to talk about his father or the situation.  The only thing she told him was that his father was murdered on his way to a different state to look for work.  After she passed away, Jamie asked Jim if it would be ok to look for his dad.  If there was a chance he was still alive, she wanted her grandfather to know her awesome father and to know the family history.  She has been searching for almost 15 years and has found bits and pieces but not enough to get anywhere significant.  In that time, she found out his birth month and year, he was adopted, and some information on his adopted parents.

On a Sunday afternoon, almost three weeks into our stay, Jamie got her genealogy folder out and was showing her dad some information and decided to search for some of the nieces listed in his grandfather’s will again.  She found an obituary for one of the nieces (Jim’s father’s cousin) which listed some of the relatives she left behind.  Jamie searched for information on them and found some phone numbers.  She told her dad, “Now I have to get up the courage to make the calls,” and he said, “I’ll make them.”  After she found several numbers, Jim made a call to a lady in Nampa, ID.  He explained who he was and asked if Bert and Nannie were her aunt and uncle.  She responded and then Jim said, “Yep, then we’re related.”  This is the first contact Jim has made with family on his dad’s side.  All these years, Jamie has been searching and making phone calls and, because we were there with her, Jim was able to make the phone call that counted.  We consider this significant.  The story gets better.  At this point, we had a link to his childhood family.  As far as we knew, he disappeared before Jim was born and have no idea what happened to him after that other than what Jim’s mom told him.  Jim and Jamie talked to this cousin’s daughter and she mentioned she found a draft record for Jim’s dad.  Jamie was anxious to get her hands on this because this is something she hadn’t been able to find before.  Sure enough, it was available online and she was able to confirm his birth day.  This linked to a social security death index for someone with Jim’s father’s name, birth month, and birth year, who passed in Missouri.  We were pretty sure this was Jim’s father but we had nothing else to confirm it.  Jamie started searching for Statlers in Missouri and there were a ton of them.  It would take forever to find a link to him so, after sitting in front of the computer searching for a while, Jamie sent her dad to the living room to relax and told him it could be years.  She started searching for Statlers in the small towns around where he died and a female name came up who would’ve been around 89 (he would have been 93).  This peaked her interest and she began searching that name in the area and a couple things came up.  She happened to click on a link and a double headstone popped up for the lady she found and a man with the same name as Jim’s dad born the same day and there was a chef hat above his name.  For those of you who don’t know, my husband is a chef.  The chef hat sealed the deal.  We knew it was him.  This meant a whole lot of things for us.  He wasn’t murdered.  He lived until he was 77 years old and obviously had married again.  Did he have other children?  What had happened to him all the years in between?  After doing more research, we were able to find and get in touch with some of the relatives in Missouri.  Jim spoke with a niece back there and explained who he was.  She was very kind and interested in hearing Jim’s story.  She told him his father was a wonderful man, very loving and kind.  Jim was very emotional hearing these wonderful things about his father.  She was so sad for him that he did not know his father.  She told him that he and her grandmother had a very happy life.  Jim had a lot of questions for her and she was able to get answers to some of them which he was very grateful for.  We have received pictures from the families in Idaho and Missouri, and it’s intriguing how much he and his father look alike.  

We are hoping to meet all of these family members at some point in the future.  The “meeting the family” chapter will begin next week when we go to Idaho to meet Jim’s dad’s childhood cousin and her family.  The cousin’s daughter told Jim over the phone that her mother was excited to meet him.  I had to finish the conversation with her because Jim was so overwhelmed and tearful that he couldn’t talk.  We will be heading home to Yakima tomorrow for a couple days and then heading to Idaho with Jamie and her family for a few days.

“Small moments” are blessings in disguise.  When I look back at the “small moments” throughout my life, I realize the blessings that came and are still coming from them.  This journey is no different.  I have seen an abundance of blessings throughout this “small moment” and know there are many more to come.  It is impossible to accurately relay the feelings of our experience here the last three weeks with the discovery of Jim’s father.  The fact that we were there with Jamie as she was researching, that Jim was able to make the phone calls, that we were together 24/7 to look at the evidence in the same room, to experience the emotions that come with this type of situation and be able to hug and cry with each other was extraordinary.  It felt as if the windows of heaven had opened and we were being showered upon.  This experience wasn’t just for me…

Friday, June 13, 2014

Healing in Paradise

First things first, we welcomed another grandson to the family.  Leinani gave birth to Jhase Raydon Coleman on April 20th, and he is adorable.  

My family disagreed with me going to Hawaii by myself a week early; however, I was glad I made that decision.  Hawaii has such a healing air and atmosphere - the people, the culture, the love, the ohana, the beauty, the peace, the warmth, the weather.  It rains or drizzles shortly and the sun comes out immediately and creates steam, like being in a sauna.  For those of you who've been there, you know what I'm talking about.  For those of you who haven't, you really need to go and enjoy the feeling of paradise and the warmth of Hawaii.  It's not just a heat warmth, it warms your soul.  I went to the swap meet three times and walked around for hours.  I felt good and strong.  I haven't been able to do that since I started chemo.

It didn't take as long as I thought to make all the preparations for Josh and Trina to get married, so I was able to relax before the wedding.  In fact, my cousin came over from the big island to spend a day with me.  We had so much fun and laughed and laughed.  I had a very enjoyable time spending time with family and friends.  They were instrumental in the healing I felt while there.

A couple days before the wedding, Jamie and I spent an afternoon at the beach.  It was a gorgeous day and, just to be able to lay and watch the waves rolling in and out and to walk on the warm sand, was very relaxing.  While we were there, we saw a couple guys that looked like they were training for something.  One was swimming back and forth across the bay which was pretty big.  He swam like he was a fish - so smooth, so fast, like he lived in the ocean.  Then we saw another guy paddle boarding out quite a ways, then he would come back to drop off his paddle board and jump into the ocean and swim out around this boat that was quite a distance.  When he returned, he took off jogging on the beach and then he'd do it all over again.  He was fast, strong, and amazing.  It was intriguing to watch.

The day of the wedding was beautiful.  You could see the ocean from the temple.  The grounds and flowers were colorful and breathtaking.  After the ceremony, we went outside and took pictures.  We spent the rest of the day at the Polynesian Cultural Center which was amazing.  The food was ono (delicious) and the night show was fantastic.  We finally left for home around 9:30 that evening.

Jamie and I stayed with my Auntie Kahili.  She is 80 years young and lives a very simple life.  Her toilet was broken when we first arrived, and we had to take the lid off and pull the chain up to flush.  Her son-in-law came and fixed it after a few days.  The first morning I went to take a shower and, in the middle of the shower, it turned cold because she had turned off the hot water heater.  She unplugs and turns everything off at night (stove, television, microwave, etc.) because she was told that saves her money on her electric bill.  We learned how spoiled we are and how much we take things for granted at home.  On the other hand, it helped us to live at a more relaxed pace while there.  Auntie is by no means cheap, she is simply simple.  She knows the difference between necessity and want or convenience.  She has a lot of wisdom about life, like this quote she shared:  "Look not mournfully into the past but wisely into the future."  I also learned a lot about my family and the Hawaiian way of life.  Both my adopted and birth parents are gone now.  Without going into more detail about my family, which would take too much time, Auntie Kahili told me I was her daughter now.  That's the Hawiian way.  

When we got back to Washington, we hit the ground running preparing for the reception which was very nice.  It was an enjoyable day with family, new family, and friends.  

Jim and I headed up to Seattle Tuesday following the reception for my surgery on Wednesday which went really well.  While in surgery they did a sentinel node biopsy, which came back negative, meaning the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes.  The tumor had shrunk to the size of a pencil point.  She was able to remove the cancer tissue and cleared the margins.  

Funny story...when Dr. Javid called to confirm the pathology results, I misunderstood her.  I told Jamie that all that was left of the cancer tissue was the size of a pencil point but that radiation would take care of it.  Dr. Javid sounded so positive that I was really excited.  When I got off the phone, I told Jamie what I thought Dr. Javid had said, and she had a scowl on her face, like "What?  That's not right."  I could tell she was confused, and I thought, "Am I not saying this right?"  You have to understand, Jamie has gone with me to all my doctors appointments with her computer noting everything and asking lots of questions.  She has been the mother in this whole situation, taking charge and making sure everything was in place and done right.  On with the story...Dr. Javid explained before surgery that she had to clear margins.  In other words, she had to remove a certain amount of tissue around the cancer for it to be considered "successful."  If pathology determined she didn't clear margins, I would have to go back for another surgery.  I forgot about that, but Jamie certainly didn't.  I was so excited, though, that Jamie dropped the subject until we went to my post-op.  Later, Jamie told me it was all she could do to not throw me in the car and drive me back down to Seattle to have them remove the rest.  At the post-op, Dr. Javid confirmed everything again and was very pleased with the great outcome.  That's when Jamie said, "I think my mom misunderstood you," and verified that Dr. Javid cleared the margins and everything was gone.  Dr. Javid felt so bad that I had misunderstood.  What she was saying is that my tumor had shrunk to the size of a pencil tip, and I thought she was saying that's what was left after surgery.  Anyhow, all is well thank goodness.

I had my follow-up with Dr. Brady, my oncologist in Yakima, and he said my neuropathy will last for a long time.  On the bright side, he said I could get back into my routine of things (light housekeeping, Zumba, some cooking) and to just listen to my body and rest when I'm tired.  

My pre-radiation appointment is on Monday, and I'll be starting radiation in a couple weeks.  Oh, and my hair started to grow back around six weeks after chemo.  It's about a quarter inch long now, and it's soft like peach fuzz.  Some people say it will grow back curly.  A Chinese with an afro?  Hmmm.

Monday, May 5, 2014

An Adventure

In my last blog, I mentioned the second round was supposed to be easier than the first.  Remember that roller coaster I referred to?  Well, I really don't like roller coasters.  I can't say the first round of chemo was worse than the second round.  The first round made me tired and sick, but the worst part was getting pneumonia.  I'll tell you about the second round now...

I can understand why people wear down and want to give up, and you don't understand it until you go through it.  That stuff is poison!

A few weeks into round two of chemo (12 weeks total), my fingernails and toenails started turning purple and will probably eventually fall off.  I also started suffering from neuropathy (tingling in the fingers), which the doctor anticipated.  

Seven weeks - They considered changing my chemo meds due to continued neuropathy

Eight weeks - They decided to change the meds and didn’t feel the need to give me Benadryl or steroids prior as no one had ever been allergic or had a reaction to the drug I was receiving.   Well, lucky me...guess what happened?  Yep, my lips swelled up, my palms turned purple, I was red under my nose, on my forehead and behind my neck, and I got purple and red blotches on the top of my hands.  All the nurses surrounded me, the doctor came out, and they immediately hooked me up to Benadryl and steroids.  They kept me there for an hour and a half watching my blood pressure and breathing, hoping I wouldn't go into cardiac arrest.  Fortunately, the Benadryl and steroids worked and I am fine, with a few bumps and bruises.  My hands looked like I had a chemical peel.

Nine weeks - I pre-medicated with Benadryl and steroids and had no reaction except the usual neuropathy, which was getting worse.

I made a trip over to Seattle and, while I was there, SCCA was able to get me in for a pre-op ultrasound.  Great news!!  The technician couldn't find the lump, so they sent me for a mammogram to find the clip that had been inserted during the biopsy.  

10 weeks - I went in for another dose of chemo and neuropathy was still getting worse. Dr. Brady asked if I could make it for two more sessions, and I told him I'll do whatever I need to do. We'll get through this.

11 weeks - When I went in this time, the nurse told me I didn't look too good and went to speak with Dr. Brady.  He was concerned that the neuropathy would cause permanent damage so, with that and the results of the ultrasound report, he released me from the last two chemo sessions.  Hallelujah!!  Jim and I were both crying, I was jumping up and down like a little kid, and the nurses were celebrating with us.

On May 1st, I went into SCCA for a pre-op appointment and met with the surgeon, who was very happy about the ultrasound report.  As of now, I am ready for my lumpectomy on May 28th, after I return from Josh's wedding in Hawaii and reception in Yakima.

First and second round comparison:  Being allergic, tired, and drugged up most of the time felt just as bad as feeling sick, tired, and having pneumonia.  It wasn't so much the chemo, I mean it was the chemo, but the Benadryl made me want to lay down all the time and say, "Leave me alone," because I was so tired.  When I went out to visit the Zumba classes, the ladies would tell me I looked really tired and ask if I was ok.  I wanted the energy to dance with the girls, but I couldn't, and that bothered me.  If I have a choice, I don't want to do either one again.  Hahahaha!  That's behind us now.  Chemo is done...YAY!  We're now waiting for the neuropathy to go away and the hair to grow back and looking forward to celebrating having all of this behind us.  Now it's time to focus on the wedding, surgery, radiation, and complete healing.

"Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure."  Robert Lipkin

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Roller Coaster Ride: High and Low Moments

Hello!  I'm still here...sorry it's been so long.  Let me update you since the last post.

I had a couple of great weeks.  On Sunday, January 19th, I woke up feeling the best I had felt since before being diagnosed.  I woke up feeling like I didn't have cancer anymore.  My energy level was great!  I went to church.  I wasn't tired.  I had a really good day and got a lot done the next couple days.

On January 22nd, I had my last session of my first round of chemo and it took me for a loop.  I was pretty much down the next three weeks.  My energy was non-existent.  I never knew someone could feel so weak and helpless but, fortunately, the day before I started my second round of chemo (February 12th), I started feeling a little better.  My second round of chemo is 12 weekly treatments, and I will finish this round on April 30th.  These treatments are not as harsh.  I'm tired and need a nap the first day, and I usually feel better the next.  I've been going to Zumba Gold® twice a week and getting my exercise in because, after the first week, I was having some shooting pains under my arms and shoulders.  Since this treatment effects the nerves, my nurse recommended I attend my Zumba Gold® classes and it has helped.  It's so great to get back and see my Zumba students.  I love it.  My daughter-in-law, Becky, has been teaching my classes for me.  I've been able to go and visit the other Zumba® classes as well and it has been nice to get out and see people again.

After I'm finished with this round of chemo, I get to take a 3-4 week break.  During this break, my son, Josh, is getting married in Hawaii so I get to take a little trip to paradise to enjoy the sunshine and warmth.  I'm really looking forward to it.  When I return, I will have surgery (a lumpectomy) at the end of May and take another 3-4 weeks off before starting my six weeks of radiation.  I will be having my surgery and receiving radiation in Seattle, so I will be staying with my daughter for a few months.  So get ready to hear from me more often.  Jamie and I will be able to work on the blog while I'm in Seattle.

My daughter heard a message this weekend at a training with Pepper Von.  "Adversity is God's University."  If we face adversity with the proper perspective, we will learn and grow.  Each of us are given our own adversities which give us the opportunity to become stronger, wiser, and more refined. So hang on and enjoy the ride!!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Joys of the Holidays, Friends, and Happy New Year!

Well now that the holidays are behind us, we are finally catching up.  I've had chemo sessions #2 and #3 since the last blog.  Session #2 was fantastic.  I felt good enough to travel to western Washington for  the holidays.  We enjoyed spending time with family, played games, had lots of fun, and ate lots of good food.  In fact, we were having so much fun, we didn't stop to update my blog.  I thought, "Wow, I'm going to breeze right through this!"  Then came session #3 last Thursday, and oh boy, it hit me.  I went in for chemo in the morning and that afternoon I felt achy and tired.  On Friday morning, I went in for my white blood cell shot.  The nurse noticed immediately I wasn't my usual self and gave me an IV to administer fluids and anti-nausea medicine.  I'm usually there a half hour to an hour but didn't get out of there for 2 1/2 hours, but I felt better after the fluids.  Fluids really help after chemo treatment.  I can tell a difference when I take in enough, but they do NOT taste good AT ALL!!  I've tried water, water with lemon, herbal tea, and Pedialyte and Gatorade diluted with water or 7-up, but nothing tastes right.  I am feeling a little better today (day #4 after chemo).  Oh, and I've been a little shaky today.  I'm sure these are all symptoms from the drugs and the drugs are doing their job so march forward I will!  My nurse said session #4 will be the worst which I'm really not looking forward to but, once we get through that, it should get better from there.  Three weeks after session #4, I go to 12 weekly chemo treatments and those are not as harsh.

One thing that's been hard for me is not being able to do things - to get up to cook or clean or decorate for the holidays.  Sometimes I don't have enough strength to get up and get a drink or something simple.  I really enjoy doing things for others, too, and it's been hard not being able to do that, especially when I hear of friends who are struggling.  I want to go help them and I can't.

The other thing I noticed is there are a lot of people with struggles and illnesses, more than I've ever noticed before.  Is it this time of year, this time in my life, is it always like that and I haven't noticed it before?  Do people keep their illnesses and struggles to themselves?  Are our eyes that closed to our friends and those in need?  For those of you, not just my friends, but my friends' friends and anyone else, who are struggling, my thoughts and prayers are with each and every one of you…always.

Some fun stuff and things that brought me joy since my last blog:

My daughter-in-law took me to try on wigs (photos below).  Curly or grey?  What do you think?  

I received a quilt from our dear friends, the Maxwells, with a note on the back of the quilt that said, "This quilt was made to give you our hugs."  I can feel their love from across the country.  

Another friend, Lynette, drew me a "Zentangle" picture with a heart, pink ribbon, flower, and a "Z."  She wrote a very special letter to go with it.  She also picked some things up for me to finish my Christmas presents since I couldn’t go out.  What a blessing.

My daughter's friend, Angela, made me a beautiful heart quilt.

The 15-16 year old Sunday School class at church made a blanket and presented it to me at church yesterday.  What a thoughtful group of teenagers.

When I feel down or weak from chemo, all I do is think of the people who are walking through this with me and I feel strong.  Some of you, I haven't even met, and I thank you for your care and concern.  My family members and friends tell me of friends and friends of friends who are asking how I'm doing and sending their well wishes and prayers.  Thank you, EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU, and Happy New Year!  May this year bring you and yours many blessings and joyful memories.