Tuesday, October 15, 2013


With the PET CT and MRI behind me, this morning we woke up with great anticipation about the results.  I still had blood work to be done and a CAT scan too (nothing like scan overkill).  But today, October 3rd, was the day I would know if the treatments had worked.  My appointment with Dr. Frank was scheduled for 10:15, after his regular clinic hours.  We sat in the waiting room, watching as new cancer patients were called in to get fitted for their masks and old ones talked about their treatments.  One little boy in particular broke my heart.  He was crying as they wheeled him in, with the nurse trying to calm his nerves.  I had been away from this kind of heart break for 10 weeks, and in an instant we are so gently reminded of how precious each moment and each life is.  You could still hear his cries, but eventually we saw him rolling out with a smile on his face and lollipop in his mouth.  His parents still had a look of bewilderment on their faces, unsure of exactly what their future will hold.  I remember that look all too clearly.  This little boy was just starting his journey and I was hopefully close to finishing mine.

We spent the next 2 ½ hours just waiting.  One nurse had once said that the MD stands for ‘Most of the Day’.  So true!  This wasn’t like waiting in line for a fun ride, but was more like the roller coaster itself, with emotional hills and valleys, as my heart sank and rose with the anticipated possibilities of the results.  Would the ‘plum’ be completely gone, like the lady Dr. Frank told me about with a similar case?  Or would it be partially gone, more like a prune?  Or would the treatment have not worked at all?  The only acceptable option in my mind was that it would be completely gone.  But there was something telling me that wasn’t the case.  When they finally brought us back to the room, we waited a little longer.   I could hear Dr. Frank and his Nurse Practitioner Meaghan whispering outside my room, which made me a little nervous.  I tried with all my might to hear what they were saying but it didn’t work.  He walked in with a smile on his face, which was normal for him.  He gave me a hug and asked how I was.  I told him that depended on him!  He proceeded to tell us that based on the PET CT it looked like the majority of the tumor was dead.  Praise God! OK, but majority doesn’t mean all.  He then proceeded to tell us that there were still some areas that were lit up on the scan, which could mean that the edges of the tumor just haven’t died yet.  Or, it also could just be inflammation.  There was no way to distinguish the difference just yet.  So, we would just have to watch and see what the next set of scans had to say in 3 months.   He said he was very pleased with the results.  He was thrilled that my vision hadn’t been affected.  He was pleased with my recovery and the way I looked.  I told him that if he was happy I was happy.  But if I’m going to be totally honest, I never got that moment that cancer patients hope for when their doctors tell them they are cancer free.   I didn’t jump for joy at my results.  I didn’t cry tears of any kind.  I took the results as a matter of fact to be dealt with.  I still have a large tumor (albeit a mostly dead tumor) in my sinus cavity, and I don’t know if there are still active cancer cells on that tumor.  I have a large hole in the upper part of my jaw, and an exposed bone that the dental oncologist will be looking at later.  Now I just sound like a whiny baby, ungrateful for the so many answered prayers presented before me.   Forgive me, Lord!  Psalm 30:2 Oh Lord, my God.  I called you for help and you healed me.  This is the absolute truth I need to focus on!  Just because I wasn’t healed the way I wanted to be (with it completely gone) doesn’t mean my prayers weren’t answered!

With relief in my heart about the tumor, we headed to see Dr. Hofstede in Dental Oncology.  That is the one place where we don’t have to spend too much time waiting.  I explained to her about the exposed bone in the roof of my mouth and the hole in my upper jaw, and she proceeded to take a look.  The exposed bone was necrotic, and the large hole also had exposed jaw bone.  She noted that it appeared to have a serious infection caused by the dead bone, and I would need to start an antibiotic rinse immediately and a 2 month regimen of 750mg Levaquin antibiotics.  She said that we could possibly make some sort of retainer type of gadget to keep food from going into the hole.  But, with my limited mouth opening (about 8-9 mm) it would be near impossible to get a mold.  She is ordering a contraption called a Therabyte which should help me exercise my jaw and hopefully increase the trismus.  After leaving, I was still uncertain as to how this would be fixed or when, but in due time, I guess.

 After an exhausting day at the hospital, we decided to head to the hotel bar for a celebratory drink (we were too tired to go out somewhere).  Again, I didn’t feel the exuberation that I had hoped for, but knew we needed to celebrate the victory!  I ordered a cosmo, Will ordered a beer and we toasted to the results.  I haven’t had anything to drink really since the beginning of June (a couple sips at most), and I have to admit that it really didn’t taste all that great (never thought I would say that!).  The alcohol also burnt the exposed areas in my mouth and my tongue.  But it was my celebratory drink, darn it, and I was not going to give up on it!  After an hour or more, I got it down, but was happy to call it quits at that point.  But I got a picture and sent it to some of my girlfriends, so they could see me celebrating. 

The next morning we woke up leisurely, not having to meet with Dr. Hanna until 12:00pm.  As I was getting dressed, Will called me into the TV area to show me that our Lake Travis HS band was on ESPN’S Top 10 Worst plays of the Day.  Their tuba section has become somewhat of a cult celebrity, after a 7 tuba pileup during a football game halftime show.  They’ve been on World News, Today Show, Jimmy Fallon, ESPN, etc.  This made me smile! 

I wasn’t nervous today at all, having already been given the results by Dr. Frank, and saw this meeting with Dr. Hanna as more of a follow up.  The ‘MD’ (Most of the Day) definitely rang true today as we waited 3 ½ hours to see Dr. Hanna.  At first the frustration was visible on Will’s face, but I saw it as an honor that we get to see a doctor who has patients from all over the world that come specifically to MD Anderson so he can treat them.  It’s true too.  The waiting room looked like a sampling from EPCOT center with so many nationalities represented.  A reminder that cancer strikes whoever, whenever, wherever it wants. 

Once we made our way into the room, I was briefly assessed by Dr. Hanna’s resident.  After a bit, she returned with Dr. Hanna and two Italian doctors who were studying alongside him.  He asked how I was.  I proceeded to tell him that I had been feeling really good, trying to walk 3-4 miles 3 times a week.  He then asked Will how he thought I was really doing.   Will replied the same way, saying I really was doing well.  It wasn’t until this past week that I got really tired, which we determined was from my body trying to fight the infection.  He also commented on how good I looked, and I turned to the Italian doctors touching my right cheek and said, “I know, aren’t I pretty?” I just have these moments of silliness that seem to break the ice when it’s needed.  Dr. Hanna said, “I can’t argue with how you say you are feeling or how you look.”  I felt a BUT coming on.  He proceeded to talk about the MRI results and how the tumor changed color, but he couldn’t tell conclusively what that meant.  That the tumor was still there...we knew that.  That there were no surgical options for me…which he’s said all along.  That nothing he could do as a surgeon could help me, but only hurt me.  That we would have to monitor it...we knew that too. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was hearing or exactly what he was saying.  It didn’t seem to be as positive as what we had heard a day earlier.  Luckily I was still clinging to what Dr. Frank said, and heard this conversation much differently than Will did.  He then said he thought it was too early for a PET.  Something triggered in my brain, and I spoke up and said I had a PET 2 days earlier.  The resident had failed to give him all pertinent information and test results before he assessed me.  He looked quite surprised, and immediately pulled up the PET results (I’m guessing someone got in a bit of trouble over this SNAFU).  As soon as the images appeared, the sweet face of one of the Italian doctors smiled and gave me an emphatic A-OK sign with his hands.  The roller coaster ride continues.  With this information, Dr. Hanna then proceeded to tell me that the lit areas were most likely just inflammation from the infection, and that this type of tumor will usually die homogenously.  All or nothing.  So now the news about the tumor ends up being even better than we thought.  But the issues inside my mouth are ones that will take time to figure out.  The dead bone will need to be removed.  My journey is still far from complete. But I’m a better person for the journey.  I’m grateful for the journey.  It has brought me closer to my Savior.  Romans 12:12 reminds us: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  These are the things that have gotten me through to this point in my journey and will continue to carry me through regardless of what lies ahead.


“On the Road Again”…this song brings back nostalgic memories of traveling with the Cal Poly Men’s Baseball team (I took stats), riding in the vans on route to the next victory, singing the words altered for our purposes.  “On the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again, this life I love is playing baseball with my friends, I can’t wait to get on the road again.”  It was no doubt a fun time in my life, and it was certainly a different road.  This time, the words don’t ring the same, and the connotation isn’t as positive, but we were ‘on the road again’ once more to MD Anderson.  This was a different kind of road trip and it is filled with a different kind of nostalgia, but both roads traveled were an important part of my life’s journey all the same.

Once again, we packed up the car, said goodbye to the girls and headed down the all too familiar road to Houston.  This time it wasn’t after a weekend home from treatment.  This time it wasn’t just part of the routine we had come to know.  This time it was after 10 weeks of the ups and downs, and highs and lows of recovering from cancer treatments.

This day had been etched on my brain and heart since my last day of treatment back on July 26th (another date I won’t forget).  Not only is today (10/2) my Dad’s 70th birthday, but it’s the day I have the scans that will determine if those words, “I think I can cure you,” spoken by Dr. Frank will prove prophetic.  I wasn’t sure how I would feel today.  Would it be just another day?  Would I be anxious?  Would I be scared?  Would I be praying for a seeming miracle?  Would I fear the results?  Would I hold tight to my faith, regardless?  And, now as I sit here in the waiting room anticipating my PET CT, I can say that the answer to ALL these questions is a resounding YES.  I freely admit to you that today I feel a little (okay, let’s be real, A LOT) nervous and a little scared.  Part of me, the all too human side of me, sometimes forgets God’s grace and mercy and control, is fearful of my results.  But the better side of me, the spiritual side led by the Holy Spirit, reminds me to trust and be faithful.  Because I know, regardless of what these scans show, I will be OK.

And, this morning I felt like it was important to talk to the girls and let them know that too.  I drove Molly to school and held her hand in the car, trying to hold tight to these cherished moments.  Surprisingly, this kind of affection is still a normal part of our relationship, but she is growing up and I know that someday it will change.  Anyways, I wasn’t sure exactly what to say or how to say it, and I started to feel the tears welling in my eyes.  I took a deep breath and silently asked God to give me the words and to calm my fears.  And, sure enough, a calm came over me.  I didn’t say anything brilliant, but I told her she didn’t need to be scared…that I would be OK…and that even if the tumor wasn’t gone it would still be OK if we hold tight to our faith.  I’m not sure if that pep talk wasn’t meant as much for me as it was for her.  She looked at me and agreed, reassuring me that the tumor was slow growing.  The insight and depth of a precious 10 year old, was exactly what we both needed.

I had the same basic conversation with Meghan but in a very different way.  I had to grab her and hug her before she left for school. I miss the days when she would just give me hugs and kisses and run into my arms.   But I will take what I can get and I just held her tight (bear hug tight) and told her that I’d be OK and I didn’t want her to worry.  She looked at me with that look a 14 year old gives her mother when she thinks you’ve lost your mind.  But it was what I saw deep in her eyes that made me realize that there are moments she is still my little girl, and needs her mommy too.  She hugged me back and I didn’t let go until she pulled away, with an, “OK mom.” 

With the girls off to school we packed the car and hit the road.  I can’t say on the road less traveled, but hopefully the scans will make it a road we travel less.  The familiarity of the beautiful fields lined with the most perfect round hay bales, the horses and cows etching the landscape, and the perfectly puffy clouds dotted across the sky looked like a painting I’d seen many times before that always puts me at ease.  Then, of course, there is Buc-ee’s which always puts a big smile on my face.  But it still strikes me as ironic that we actually pass a ‘Plum Road’ on the way.  Remember that someone initially described my tumor as similar in size to a large plum.  This ever so slight of a reminder tugged at me and replaced some of the ease with harsh reality. 

When we arrived in Houston the rain was falling, and I’d like to believe it was healing rain meant for me (Gina!).  We drove by the Proton radiation center where I had 33 treatments over 7 weeks.  I started once again to tear up (no I’m not PMSing!).  I wanted to go see Deborah again, that sweet angel of a lady disguised as a receptionist, who made me smile everyday when there wasn’t much to smile about.  But that reunion would have to wait as we had to make our way to the Mays Building for my scans.  Not having spent much time at this particular building during my treatment, it didn’t have the same sort of nostalgic effect on me.  That is, until they placed my hospital bracelet on my wrist again designating me as patient 1015769.  It’s been nice not being a patient for the last 10 weeks.  But once again I was in a familiar place with an all too familiar feeling.

I was concerned when they informed me that there was a power surge and everything would be delayed as they recalibrated all the scanner machines and computers.  But surprisingly, I actually got in earlier than I was scheduled.  I think people left thinking the delay would be too long to wait.  But we were here and had no choice. 

As they called me in, I was given a pair of scrubs that were much too large (definitely not getting any style points) and they took my weight and height.  Having grown up in the 70s when we learned traditional units of measure (the push to metric never really catching hold completely), I hate it when I’m weighed in kilograms because the numbers mean nothing to me.  Maybe sometimes ignorance is bliss!  They started my IV and left me to rest for the required hour.  It wasn’t five minutes after I had finally fallen asleep that they came to get me for the scan (of course!). 

I took the previous 55 minutes to pray and open my ears and heart to hear the Lord.  I was calm and relaxed during the scan, and feel like the nerves have subsided and I’m ready for my MRI and to once again kick cancer’s A$$.  Romans 4:20-21  20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

GOOD VS. EVIL (9/11)

Since the beginning of time there has been a battle of Good vs. Evil.  It started with Adam and Eve being tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and it continues today in the form of terrorists threatening our security both here and abroad.  So, “Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?”  Alan Jackson asks this question of us, and I’m sure there are few, if any, of you who can’t say exactly what you were doing on September 11th, 2001.  I know that I certainly remember that moment vividly.  I had woken up very early that morning and for some reason (which I expect to be God) I turned the TV on and changed the channel to Fox News (or maybe CNN, but that’s irrelevant).  The strange thing is I never woke up and turned to these channels.  But that day I did.  And as soon as I did, I saw the smoke and fire billowing from the first tower.  The first plane had just hit before I turned it on, and the regular stations didn’t even have coverage yet.  Speculation flung its way through the newsroom (which happens all too often now…) like a chicken with its head cut off as the reporters tried to make sense of what they were seeing.  At first, I heard them guess that it was a terrible fire then it was a small airplane that must have gotten off course and had engine trouble (some hadn't seen the first plane hit as they started reporting).  Then, it happened.  In the distance you could see a jet liner heading for the second tower and in that moment my heart sank and I watched in horror on live TV the worst terrorist attack on US soil in our history.  I could hardly believe my eyes through the streams of tears.  The horrible images of people running from the deluge of smoke and debris were nothing compared with the unbelievable video of people jumping from nearly 100 stories high to try to get out.  The heartbreak of phone calls to loved ones from the airplane that went down in Pennsylvania was enough to change anyone.   Such desperation, such devastation, such tragedy.  The world changed that day forever.  The world, it seemed, had in fact stopped turning.   

Mike M. was just 19 years old on 9/11/01.  His life too would be forever changed.  He is the brother of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Laura.  He and his twin brother both entered the Marines and served tours of duty in Afghanistan against the war on terror.  Mike was injured by an IED on November 3rd, 2010 while in Afghanistan and had a very difficult recovery.  I wasn’t sure what I could do, but to pray.  Then I realized that the Tough Mudder race I was planning on doing supported the Wounded Warrior project which has helped Mike and many other brave heroes.  Part of the entry fee goes to the Wounded Warriors, but I felt like I needed to do more.  They gave you the option of fundraising too, so I did the fundraising and race in honor of a personal friend (Mike) and war hero.  I tell you all of this, not because I am looking for praise for doing this, but because I had the most wonderful surprise on September 11th of this year, just a few days ago.  I received in the mail a card, postmarked from the middle east (for security purposes I won’t say what country), with the word “FREE” written where the stamp would have been.  Then I saw the return address from Sgt. Michael M., CF3, Fast Company, Central Command.  I was very surprised not having talked to Mike since we moved, but keeping up on tidbits of his life through Facebook as they appeared.  He sent me a sweet card, signed by his entire platoon, thanking me for my support of him when he was injured in battle, and offering me their support during my battle with cancer.  Now not only myself, but my entire platoon will stand by your side and fight this battle with you.”  I was brought to tears as I thought of the Marines of Charlie 3 Fast taking time to wish me luck and offer their support.  I was brought to tears that this card happened to arrive on September 11th…I don’t think this was a coincidence, but part of God’s perfect timing.  I was brought to tears because I had no idea how much my small gesture (in comparison with his big troubles) would mean to him even years later.   And I was brought to tears by the word “FREE” on the envelope, meaning merely that he didn’t have to pay postage.  But I saw it as symbolizing our Freedom, being kept alive by brave men and women like those in Charlie 3 Fast.  Thank you, Sgt. Michael M. for being part of the Good in the battle versus Evil.  But ultimately I saw it as meaning that we are truly free when we have faith in Jesus Christ. “I will walk about in Freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.”  Psalm 119:45 

The world is full of evil and bad, of that there is no doubt.  During this week where we remember the tragedies of 9/11, we should also remember the good that came from it.  People came together like never before.  People flocked to church in hopes of finding understanding and truth and hope. And for me, this week, my life was really good and full of hope!  So I choose to focus on that.  I was offered continued support from friends…thank you Terry for the sweet card and Charlie 3 Fast for your support.  I also received the best surprise when I got a dozen cupcakes from DC Cupcakes in Georgetown (anyone seen the show on TLC?)!  OK, so I actually knew they were coming, but that’s beside the point. My cousin, Bridget, wanted to send them to me earlier but I wasn’t able to eat.  So, this week I happened to mention that I thought I would definitely be ready to sink my teeth into some sweet cupcake goodness.   She ordered up a mixed dozen with some of my favorite flavors (chocolate peanut butter, red velvet, carrot cake, etc.), and they were worth the wait!  Although keeping them from my kids continues to be the challenge!   

My energy level is definitely good too! I have been walking a pretty tough 4 mile, hilly course, at least 3-4 days a week.  For some of my old workout friends (and new ones) that might not seem like a big deal.  I’m used to running, not walking.  I’m used to riding my bike long distances.  I’m used to tennis, kayaking and yoga, and some P90X style tough workouts.  But I am not disappointed with a 4 mile walk.  After what I’ve been through this is a victory.  “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him and he helps me.  My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”  Psalm 28:7.  I won’t allow self doubt and disappointment to hinder my progress.  I am making excellent progress considering I had radiation and chemotherapy for 7 weeks.  I had radiation on the entire right side of my head, with even a beam even going through my brain.  I am going to symbolically claim victory over this cancer by completing the Gladiator Race on November 9th  in San Antonio, TX with anyone and everyone who wants to be a part of this special day.  Do it with us, or just come cheer us on.  You may remember that someone described my tumor originally as the size of a large plum.  Well, after much deliberation and thought, I came up with the t-shirt design for our team…on the front it will say, “Cancer Plum Sucks” with a big plum surrounded by a circle with a line through it.  I thought this says it all!

Yes, my week was good...very good by the standards of the last 3 months.  I had my first dinner out with my family.  Again, this may not sound like much, but when you haven’t been eating out or ‘eating’ at all it’s a big deal!  We went to a new restaurant in town, The Grove, which opened while I was in Houston getting treatment.  It is always packed, but we went with the blue hairs right around 6pm.  I ordered a grilled chicken and goat cheese Panini that definitely titillated my desperate taste buds! It was AMAZING!  Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite wrap my mouth around it (my jaw still not able to open any more than before the treatment due to scar tissue from the radiation), so I had to try to cut it into smaller pieces.  The knife wouldn’t cut all the way through the bread, so you can only imagine the look I got when I asked for a steak knife for my Panini!   

I had my first haircut and color since getting home 7 weeks ago (boy did I need it too!).  It’s funny too, because my hairdresser moved before I finished treatment and my hair hadn’t been my priority.  But all of a sudden, when you are feeling like your old self, you also want to look like your old self…like NOW.  Not in 2 or 3 weeks when some of my friends’ hairdressers could get me in.  But NOW.  A little voice in my head kept telling me to call Salon Belleza, and I’m not sure why.  No one had ever recommended it.  I had never been in it.  It wasn’t the best deal by ANY stretch of the imagination.  But I just felt like that was where I needed to go.  I can’t explain it.  Luckily, they were able to get me in on Friday, which was very good news.  So far so good.  But the interesting part is that the girl who did my hair was a faithful Christian.  I had to tell her about my cancer because of the big bald spot she had to work around.  We started talking and she mentioned her friend who was just diagnosed with breast cancer.  I wrote down my blog in the hopes that it would give her friend some hope…sounds corny doesn’t it?  I just find it amazing when you listen, God will lead you to where you are supposed to go…even for your hair J 

My eyebrows and eyelashes are already growing in, after only being completely gone for a week.  That’s a VERY good thing too, because my eyebrow drawing skills equated to a 3 year old trying to draw inside the lines.  Actually, that gives me a thought…do they make eyebrow templates?  I seriously could’ve used one!  My face is healing nicely, and the skin on the right side is as smooth as a babies butt.  Who knew radiation would serve as my own personal laser facial peel?  And I didn’t even have to pay for it.  OK, now that I think about it that’s not true…I paid a big price(both financially and physically).  But lucky for you and me Jesus paid the bigger price.  And remembering that is what got me through this entire thing with what I hope is, and continues to be, grace and dignity, along with humor.   

When the world feels like it has stopped turning, for whatever reason, try to find the good in simple things like haircuts and cupcakes, cards and eyebrows, family and friends.    But remember that sacrifice is a huge part of life.  We all have our own battles to fight.  Some people fight battles with terrorists, like Mike M. fought and sacrificed for his country.  Others fight terrible battles with cancer.  They too have made huge sacrifices along with their families.  The scars of those sacrifices are like badges of honor when you realize how much you have to gain from trusting the Lord during those times…at least they are for me.  I wouldn’t take them back.  So, I hope you will take the time to remember those who have sacrificed.   And, until you experience some sacrifice of your own, it may be hard to imagine and understand the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.  But when you do, you will realize that with Jesus, good will always beat evil.  With Jesus we win. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The First and the Last

Do you remember the first time that your children took their first steps or ate their first bites of real food?  How proud you were of the fact that they were growing to be these little tiny people, still completely dependent on you, but who were learning new ways of doing things.  I certainly remember those moments so clearly with my daughters Meghan and Molly.  The first time they let go of the table and put their arms out towards me and walked.  Or their face covered in peas, as they decided whether or not accept the food from the spoon turned airplane.  Why we felt that making the spoon sound like an airplane would somehow make peas taste better is beyond me!  Anyways, these were moments that we as parents mark as milestones; monumental occasions in our children’s lives.  We mark these moments down in their baby books and we take pictures and video to remember them.  Well, this week for me has been monumental for me.  I was like that toddler getting to experience and do many things for the first time…again.  I wrote them down in my journal so I wouldn’t forget.  I even took some pictures to remember these occasions.  And I have no doubt that my God and Father was beaming with pride as He watched my own rebirth and recovery from cancer.  But like that toddler, I too, am still and will always be completely dependent on my Father.

As you already know, I’ve had difficulties with chewing due to mouth sores and nerve pain from the radiation.  This has probably been the most difficult part of my recovery and by far the most frustrating.  But on August 25th, I ate my first real meal in well over two months!  The tortellini with alfredo sauce and sourdough bread with butter tasted like something that Julia Childs would have served to the Queen of England!  A delectable creaminess to the alfredo sauce (with lots of extra sour cream) and the butter on that fresh sourdough made my mouth sing with delight.  It might have been singing out of tune, but it was singing with the strength and veracity of a full inner city Baptist Choir praising the Lord!  After drinking my fair share of Boost and other nutritional drinks as my main source of nutrition for months, I was certainly singing the praises!  On a side note, you would think nutrition drink companies could come up with something other than chocolate, strawberry or vanilla.  I mean, really?  There is a whole population of head and neck cancer patients who rely on the stuff for months…a little variety would be nice.  But, I digress.  The point is, I was able to get down a real meal.  It might have taken me and hour and a half, but slowly but surely I ate.  Tiny little bite, by tiny little bite, I began to retrain my tongue.  There were no peas all over my face (although I would’ve loved them in the alfredo) but there might have been a dribble or two of sauce on my face.  A visual indicator of a meal well enjoyed!

August 26th was another day of firsts for both me and my girls!  You see, it was the first day of school.  Of course, every year I require them to take “First Day of School” pictures by the front door with their backpacks.  Molly, my 10 year old (fifth grade), is still completely willing and finds this an acceptable request.  Meghan, my 14 year old and now high school freshman, finds this the most unacceptable and ridiculous request I could make.  The days of the picture of the two of them together are gone (they start school at different times).  But shouldn’t she grant me just this one simple request?  Just a picture by the front door with her backpack?  Kicking and screaming I got her to agree, but she didn’t want to go outside because our neighbor Jonathon (a junior) might see her and that would be almost as embarrassing as having to hug your mother in public!  She knew I wouldn’t back down and finally quickly ran out by the front door and I snapped a couple shots.  I just have to say that I find it amusing that the girl who takes a million selfies and snap chats a day to her friends, finds it so irritating when I want a picture of my own.  Teenagers…  Anyways, they both got off to school and had fabulous first days.  Molly likes her teachers and is the big girl on campus, and Meghan’s apprehensions about the size of the school, being the bottom of the totem pole and the work load have lessened.  Lucky for her (unlucky for us) she looks more like a senior than a wimpy little freshman, and my social butterfly is loving it! It is sad to see my first baby go off to High School but I won’t be cliché by likening it to a butterfly spreading its wings J

While the 26th was the first day of school for the girls, it was also another first for me since getting home.  With the eerie silence of the house, and only the sounds of the TV on in the background and our dog snoring, did I realize that I was free!  Don’t get me wrong, I love my girls and love having them home, but the last several weeks have been more than a bit hectic with dance camps and sports practices, etc. and I haven’t had much time to focus on me (that sounds selfish, doesn’t it?).   Now there is time for me to begin my ‘normal’ routine, which used to include some pretty intense workouts.  But, now, there are only baby steps…literally.  My dear friend Chris and I laced up our running shoes (well, walking shoes for now) and set out for what would be my first official walk.  Just like the toddler taking their first steps, these steps were for me just as important.  They were a step in the right direction.  A step towards physical strengthening.  A step towards improved health.   A step towards the Gladiator Run on November 9th.  But most importantly, a step towards a cancer free life (we pray).  Isaiah 40:31 But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” So, with an eager heart, ready mind, and rusty body, we walked (and took a picture too) and we talked, which is therapy in and of itself!  I wasn’t up to my regular walking pace, and we certainly weren’t running, but I was out in the unusually cool morning air (strange for a TX August morning) with the dearest of friends walking.   I am trying very hard to be smart about my recovery, and not pushing myself too hard.  If I do, I pay for it greatly the next day.  So we started with a mile and a half.  The next day it was two.  And the day after that it was three.  Today we did three miles again, but I was up to a nice brisk pace and felt like I could have done at least another mile or more if time would have permitted.   In an earlier blog I mentioned wanting to do a Warrior Dash in October as my comeback event.  Unfortunately, there isn’t one, but I did find a Gladiator Run on November 9th in San Antonio, TX.  I now have a goal of running and completing the Gladiator event, and I hope you will come join my team (team name and uniform details to follow J) 

August 27th was yet another first for me.   It was my first meal out in a restaurant!  Realizing from earlier in the week that I could actually eat pasta, it freed up a whole new world to me…restaurants.  I hadn’t seen my friend Jennifer since I had gotten home, so we went out to Mandolas for lunch.  I ordered a half portion of, you guessed it, pasta in alfredo sauce (why mess with a good thing???).  Again, it took an hour and a half to eat four cheese raviolis, but how nice it was to take the time to enjoy conversation with my friend.  And, the trend of firsts continued on August 28th, with a boat load of freshman moms meeting at FORE for Happy Hour.  This is a relatively new tradition where freshman moms get together once a month as a community to just chat and keep each other informed.  So, this was my first Happy Hour since my return!  Well, it was Happy Hour without the ‘Happy’.  I haven’t had anything to drink in over 3 months for obvious reasons.  It’s not that the doctors now wouldn’t allow me to, but the sores and nerve pain would be irritated by the alcohol.  So, not a bad thing at all, but I do miss the occasional glass of wine (who misses Thirsty Thursdays girls??) or margarita by the pool.  And, actually, I did have my first sip of margarita yesterday, but just wasn’t ready to take one on.  But, I was ready to take on my first few Reese’s Peanut Butter cups!  Terry Preli, can I get an Amen?!?!

Friday August 30th was another big first, especially here in Texas.  It was the first high school football game of the season. For those of you not from Texas, you couldn’t possibly understand the magnitude of this reality!  It also happened to be Will’s birthday, but he agreed to go with our normal Friday Night Lights tradition of tailgating and going to the game.  My Aunt Karen was in town helping me out and visiting, and got into the Lake Travis spirit too.  We all wore LT shirts, ate pulled pork on the tailgate (and my first cupcake too!) and had a great time with Chris and the kids.  Sean and Ken joined us later as we cheered on our beloved LT.  It was nearly 100 degrees at 9 o’clock, and we lost (not the 5 time state champions of a few years back), but it was tradition.  And it felt normal.  And I felt good even in the heat (yes, I stayed well hydrated). 

I have told you of my eyebrow dilemma in a past blog post, but felt it was worth mentioning that this week I completely lost my first eyebrow.  The other eyebrow is half gone, but had one lone hair hanging on at the other side.  I was going to pluck it out, but my Aunt Karen said ‘that kind of determination should be rewarded’.  I agreed, and it hung on for a few more days.  Today I noticed it finally gave up.  I am still getting used to trying to pencil my eyebrows in, so maybe this week should also entail my first makeover…

Through the joy of all these firsts, there is also great sadness this week for me.  Earlier in the week we lost a dear family friend, Gene Campbell.  I have known the Campbell’s since I was a toddler.  They were our next door neighbors in Huntington Beach, and I remember such fun times our families shared over the years.  It was unexpected and terribly sad, but they are a family of faith.  I ask that you pray for his wife, our dear friend, Terri and her grown children Danny, Rory and Shannon to feel the Lord’s comfort and peace. Luke 23:43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” As I am writing this blog, I was informed that Terri went into emergency stomach surgery today.  I haven’t seen an update, but please keep her in your prayers that she is OK, and able to go home and regain her strength before Gene’s service on Friday.

This week we also lost my dear Aunt Carolyn.  Carolyn Moreno is my Mom’s oldest sister and has fought such a courageous battle of her own with cancer.  She was diagnosed with esophageal cancer probably 8 years ago and did amazingly well for a long time.  Unfortunately, the cancer returned and spread, and she was too weak for surgery and chemo treatments were extremely difficult to bear.  She had widdled away to 90 pounds and before her passing on September 1st was a mere 70 something pounds.  My sweet mother and father were able to see her while she was still aware and walking, which was such a blessing for them all.  It saddened me when I talked to her and she told me she was afraid to die.  I kept telling her that she didn’t need to be afraid.  That as long as she accepted Christ she would be saved.  I sent her daily cards with scriptures about salvation and just the beauty that awaits those who believe in Heaven.  I didn’t know exactly where she stood in her beliefs, but wanted to share the truth just in case.  My mom informed me that about a week before her death, with her son Timmy and his father in law who is a pastor by her side, my Aunt sat up and accepted Christ.  Hearing that was the best news I ever could have received.  They said it was like a miracle because she hadn’t been doing well.  This, my friends, is why we are here.  That is God’s calling to us.  Mark 16:15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”  Please pray for my Uncle Manuel and my dear cousins Mike, Jeff and Timmy, as well as my mother and her other sister.  While death, either expected or unexpected, is so tragic for those of us left behind, there is such hope in knowing that our loved ones are with Christ.

So, with my all my firsts this week, God was with me breathing new life into my being.  He was giving me strength and courage for the remainder of my earthly journey.   And while Gene and Carolyn drew their last earthly breaths, God was breathing new life into them for their eternal journey in Heaven.  You see, God is the First and the Last, the Alpha and Omega.  He was my first walk and He was their last breath. He is the all in all.  Revelation 21:6-7 He said to me: “It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.”

In Loving Memory of Carolyn Moreno (7/7/35 – 9/1/13) and Gene Campbell (2/18/33 – 8/27/13)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nothing Seems Strange Anymore

I ask that you forgive me for the long delay between my blog posts.  Not that you’ve been on the edge of your seat, chomping at the bit to read my story.  But if you have, thank you because that means that my story has touched you in some way, and for that I am so thankful.   2 Corinthians 1:3-4  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  This is my hope, that whatever trials or tribulations any one of you may be going through, that I can in some way be of comfort to you through this blog and you realize that nothing is strange when it comes to the Lord’s plan for you.

OK, now I have a slight confession to make (no priest required).  The truth must come out.  In my effort to fully rest so that my body could heal properly, I became obsessed with something…maybe even addicted.  I don’t have an addictive personality, except maybe where chocolate is concerned.  But I have control over it J  But now, chocolate has become my gateway…to candy…Candy Crush!  Yes, I admit it.  Many hours have been spent with my pad playing this game that I said I wouldn’t play.  I’m slightly irritated at the moment that I cannot pass level 39 without boosters.  But I refuse to pay the $.99 to get them.  So, between the need to fully rest, and my new strange addiction (think I could get on that TV show…LOL), I have neglected my blog.  For weeks I have been storing away ideas, but I haven’t taken the time to sit down and write.  So now, I vow to you that I will no longer let Candy Crush Saga interfere with my blog! 

It’s true to me that nothing seems strange anymore.  All the ‘coincidences’ and the weird circumstances surrounding my cancer diagnosis and treatment, no longer seem strange to me.  If you look at the whole of my story, it is evident that God has been involved in every step.  So it should not seem strange to you, or weird, when I tell you the next part of my story.  One wonderful thing about MD Anderson is that they coordinate your appointments and schedules between departments.  They make your appointments for you at the time they are needed.  So, when I looked at my appointment schedule to see when my follow up scans were scheduled I had two initial reactions.  First, I noticed that my MRI and PET CT were scheduled for October 2nd, approximately 10 weeks from the end of my treatment.  I immediately thought, “Oh no, my dad’s 70th birthday!”  Thoughts immediately went to not being able to celebrate with him on his big day.  Then my thoughts went elsewhere…to that ‘strange’ coincidence place…to that ‘God has a plan’ place.  Maybe you will recall from one of my initial blogs that the road to my diagnosis began on my mom’s 70th birthday on April 18th when I had that initial “attack” that made me immediately call our friend Bert to get me to a neurologist.  So when I read that my follow up scans were on my dad’s 70th birthday, I immediately thought, “That is so strange.”  Then I immediately thought, “Nothing seems strange anymore.”  God in His intricate planning somehow destined that those two dates be pivotal in my story.  Maybe He remembered that I was never good at remembering datesJ  Anyways, it’s kind of a full circle…a beginning (4/18) and hopefully a glorious end (10/2) when they read those scans and tell me that I kicked cancer’s A$$.  That is my prayer anyways, and if I’ve learned anything it is that God answers prayers according to His will.  That is a big lesson to be learned.  When I was lying on that table getting my first MRI, I prayed that whatever God’s will was that He give me the strength to get through whatever it was that I would be facing.  By the way, that was the hardest prayer for me to ever say.  When I looked outside of my will and prayed according to His will, He has answered my prayers in so many ways.  Today I received this verse on a daily “Prayer for Today” email from my friend Jerry H.  It is so appropriate to what I’m saying here.  1 John 5:14-15 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know the He hears us – whatever we ask- we know that we have what we asked of Him.

So, with regards to answered prayers, I must give you an update on my vision.  I probably should have used some suspense, or a cliffhanger to keep you wondering.  But the news is just too good for that.  There were several things that were surprises to me going through this process.  The first one was when my Radiation Oncologist, the amazing Dr. Frank, informed me that I would lose the vision in my right eye.  I immediately remembered a conversation I had with my youngest daughter, Molly.   There is a precious little girl at Molly’s school who has been battling cancer since she was 8 months old.  Every so often Molly would give me updates on her condition, or would be excited when she saw her back at school after being away at treatments.  On one of those occasions she told me that Torrence lost the vision in her eye and she was very upset about that.  I told Molly that my cancer was very different from hers and I wasn’t going to lose my vision.  Then, POW!@#, right in the kisser (well, actually right in the eye, but whatever), I am told I was going to lose my vision.  I didn’t cry. I didn’t even flinch. I wasn’t scared.  I knew I could survive with vision in one eye.  That was not going to destroy me.   My only thought was that I had promised Molly I wasn’t going to lose my sight.  How, then, would I now tell her I was?  Well, like any good parent, I just never mentioned it again.  I asked you all to pray about it.  I asked that God show us a miracle.  And HE has!  You see, my tumor was pushed up against my optic nerve.  And even as precise as the Proton Radiation is, there was no getting around the fact that radiation would hit that optic nerve.  The amount of radiation required to kill the tumor was more than the optic nerve can take.  Therefore, it was a sound scientific conclusion that I would lose my sight.  But guess what?  That first week, my vision did deteriorate.  Then, the prayers were all lifted and my vision is now clear as can be.  So there is no doubt.  It is not strange.  It is the hand of God once again.  Please continue praying that it stays that way!

It should be strange, but it isn’t, that I received a package in our mailbox a few weeks back from a friend.  There was a card and a gift.  When I looked at the card, it was written on the back, “Ladybugs = Luck”.  I thought this was strange, because my family loves ladybugs, and I was sure she didn’t know this.  Then, I proceeded to open up two darling kitchen towels with ladybugs on them.   Without sounding crazy, my Grandpa Hall sends us messages via ladybugs.  OK, that does sound crazy doesn’t it???  Well, it’s true.  At my college graduation, he called a ladybug a “vicious little creature.”  He passed away almost 14 years ago, but without fail, at almost every single Conley event or special occasion, a ladybug has found its way to us.  Whether it was on the 10th story of a hotel in Kansas City in October, or in a house at a family reunion, or on the boat before I started cancer treatments, a ladybug (that vicious little creature) comes to say hello.  There is no doubt in any of our minds that it is my Grandpa letting us know he is still with us.  That may sound strange to you, but nothing seems strange to me anymore.  So when I got Ladybug kitchen towels from a friend who didn’t know this story…well, you know.

Kitchen towels bring me neatly to my next point.  I am a failure in the kitchen.  Well, I never really thought so until it was made abundantly clear by the well doings of some dear friends.  My family was blessed when friends put together a care calendar for us.  On weekends when we were home from Houston we would get meals delivered.  What a blessing it was!  One particular weekend, my dear friend Stacy made us a pot roast on Thursday then made chicken pot pie and a pasta casserole that we could freeze for the rest of the weekend.  My kids and husband were so distraught when the care calendar came to a conclusion.  Meghan, my 14 year old, commented that she didn’t want it to end because she loves the variety.  Then as they sat and ate these wonderful meals that Stacy prepared for us (and I looked on with my Boost in hand)  I had to endure the “oohs” and “aahs” that came unknowingly from them.  It’s not their fault.  I forgive them.  It was then I decided that I’d better step up my game and get some new recipes.  Who am I kidding…just get SOME recipes.  Clearly, all of Stacy’s creations are needed to keep my family happy.   Heck, I even got up this morning and had a pot roast and fixin’s in the crock pot by 9:45.  I had to shoo Will away from it as he tried to doctor it up.  I wanted to do it on my own.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.  I’m sure it won’t be as good as Stacy’s J 

On a different note, have you ever seen that commercial with the little toddlers that have just woken up and they have completely crazy, wild hair?  The music playing in the background goes, “I feel pretty, oh so pretty.”  I absolutely love this commercial.  It is so cute.  I can relate to the crazy morning hair, especially now with my big bald spot.  Most people would never see my bald spot, luckily, because I have such thick hair and it parts over that side.  But when I wake up in the morning, my hair is sticking straight up and the bald spot just glares back at me in the mirror.  But this morning I looked at my face, which no longer shows the signs of burns and scabs from the radiation, and saw that it was beaming.  Yesterday the final parts sloughed off, and now my face looks like nothing ever happened.  It looks maybe a little red and slightly dry, but no worse than a day in the sun.  On the flip side of that good news is that my eyebrows have almost disappeared.  My right eyebrow is so thin that you can hardly see it and my left eyebrow is slightly patchy now.  So, I have become that person that HAS to paint on her eyebrows (if I start wearing loads of blue eyeshadow and hot pink lipstick too, please step in and help!). People look strange without eyebrows.  It’s true.  So this morning as I looked in the mirror, after rolling out of bed with crazy hair and bald spots, newly painted on eyebrows, and clear, beautiful skin, I thought of the song from that commercial for some reason.  I felt pretty.  “I feel pretty, oh so pretty.”  I’ve learned to appreciate real beauty, and we all have it even in the midst of bald spots and missing eyebrows!

I continue to get both physically and mentally stronger every day.  Two weeks ago I couldn’t have imagined doing my comeback race event in October that I talked about in a previous blog.  My enthusiasm for my recovery may have been greater than my common sense at the time.  But now, two weeks later and four weeks beyond my final treatment, I feel like I possibly could do it!  My strength and stamina are improving every day, and I feel almost ‘normal’ (whatever that is).  I clearly haven’t been working out yet, but just shuttling the kids around and shopping for school clothes and supplies has prepared me for the next task of training for this event.  I am cautiously optimistic that a comeback race is in my future (hopefully October), and I’ll let you all know as we get closer if I think my body will be ready.  But you know me…once I decide I’m going to do it, you can’t stop me.

The only possible thing hindering my quest for athletic greatness once again (OK, that’s a stretch, I know) is the fact that I still can’t eat solid food.  The sores in my mouth and the nerve damage to my tongue from the radiation make it near impossible to chew.  Even the liquids can cause pain to my tongue.  So it’s been a battle to get the nutrition I need in liquid form.  So, I’m like the old folks who can’t eat and are relying on Boost or some other nutritional drink.  With each day, however, I think it gets just ever so slightly better, but I really want to sink my teeth into some solid food.  Why I crave pizza is beyond me, but it sounds amazing!  And, Terry sent me a crumb cake from Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken (Cake Boss, anyone?).  I froze it until I can eat it…and I may not even share ;)  Anyways, because of the nerve pain I have to use straight viscous lidocaine as a rinse to numb it so I can get the drink down.  Not the best scenario, but it works.  I don’t know if I should be frightened or laugh that Meghan thinks it would be fun to borrow my lidocaine and numb her mouth.  She thinks it’s funny when your mouth is all swollen from being numb and you talk funny…oh teenagers (she is definitely her father’s daughter!!!).  Talk about strange ;)  

I hope that somewhere in the midst of all this rambling, you see that the things in life that seem strange or coincidental or even painful, are somehow part of God’s perfect plan for your life.  Embrace the strange, embrace the change, but most importantly, embrace the Lord Jesus Christ!

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Today marks one week since I rang the gong on my cancer treatments.  One week since I graduated to a new phase in my cancer journey.  One week since I said goodbye to, hugged and thanked the wonderful people who have been treating me for the prior seven weeks.   The last several weeks have been filled with so much raw emotion ranging from joy, pain, anticipation, wonder and relief.  I’ll try to sum it all up for you, but I don’t know if that’s possible.  I think the good Lord is the only one who can really know the full truth and depth of my emotions.

Ring the gong, you ask?  No, I’m not crazy (although some may beg to differ).  It’s a beautiful tradition at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center that when a patient completes their treatment, they ring a gong that is in the hallway between the treatment area and waiting room.  It symbolizes a return to balance and restoration.  I was so excited for my opportunity to ring the gong on July 26th (one day later than our original end date of July 25th).  I made Will promise to be ready with camera in tow by the gong, so we could take pictures and commemorate this special day.  The girls who had done my treatments for the last 7 weeks joined me and Will as I rang the gong, symbolizing my restoration.  I was claiming my body back from the grips of Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma.  With each wave of noise resonating from the gong, I could almost feel the cancer exiting my body.  That was truly one of the most joyous moments I have ever experienced, shy of my children’s births and my wedding. 

Prior to ringing the gong on July 26th, I was taken aback when I was hospitalized earlier that week.  It was that Tuesday, my most hectic and least favorite day of treatment when I was blindsided by my chemo doctor.  A typical Tuesday looked like this…bloodwork around 9am, appointment with Dr. Glisson somewhere around 10am to review the bloodwork, radiation around noon and chemo around 4pm.  But this Tuesday went a little different than planned.  When we arrived I was feeling dizzy and lightheaded (but that really wasn’t anything different).  My blood pressure was extremely low.  The first reading was 87/54, but consequent readings dipped to 79/53 down to 77/53.  This would explain my dizziness (no,  it wasn’t the blonde highlights making me dizzy).  I knew that Dr. Glisson was not going to be happy about that or the 4 pound weight loss from that week.   The week prior she wiped her hands clean of me (“I’m done here.”) when I kept shooting down her attempts at stronger pain meds and additional hydration.  I don’t respond well to opioids, and I hate getting more IV’s than I need because my veins refuse to cooperate.   Well, anyways, I knew this would come back to bite me as I lay there on the exam table (because I was too weak to sit up in the chair) waiting for her to come see me.  It didn’t take long before she told me I “was a sick puppy” and severely dehydrated .  I saw a new side of Dr. G, the softer, sensitive side as she stroked my leg, while I cried telling her I was trying to get enough fluids and nutrition.  She saw a new side of me that day too.  I told her, “See, you weren’t done with me yet!”  She laughed, recognizing my need to find the humor through the tears.   She also informed me that my White Blood Count was at 1.7, which is extremely low, caused by the chemotherapy.   Good news!!  I got myself out of my last chemo treatment.  Bad news, I was on my way to the ER.

I don’t know why that thought scared me so much.  The ER was for really sick people (especially at a cancer hospital), and I just didn’t want to think that I was one of them.  Of course, who am I kidding…of course I’m sick.  I have been fighting a cancer the size of a large plum, been inundated with enough radiation to probably power Chernobyl, and enough chemo to poison an entire lake.  But really, the ER??  Well, they wheeled me straight from my appointment to the ER, where I was admitted for IV fluids and would be assessed to determine if I would have to be consequently admitted to the hospital and possibly receive a feeding tube.  And, I was admitted to the hospital.  Unfortunately, I would have to miss my radiation treatment that day, so I would no longer finish on Thursday, but would have to make it up on Friday.  That was very disappointing.  Anyways, after receiving 2 liters of IV fluid, and then a slow drip fluid, I was sent to my corner hospital room where I would be poked and prodded for the next two days, connected to the continuous fluid IV.  That first night in the hospital, I was awakened 6 different times, four of which were for blood.  The first time I understood.  The second time they said they forgot to test for something and had to take more (I was a little irritated at 3am).  The third time they said something about blood typing(oh whatever) and the fourth time I just didn’t even open my eyes.  That next morning my poor vein looked like someone had been doing some illegal partying on my arm and I wasn’t invited.    It wasn’t long after I woke up that the nurse informed me that my Red Blood Count had dropped to 8, and I would require a blood transfusion that day.  I don’t know why, but again I was faced with a strange sense of trepidation and anxiety about the thought of someone else’s blood entering my body.  And it wasn’t that I was scared of disease or anything like that (they test and retest so many times).  I know that people get blood transfusions all the time, my dad included, and they save people’s lives and restore them to health.  But it was still an odd feeling that I can’t explain.  I never actually watched the blood going through the IV.  But, boy, let me tell you something!  Blood can really make a girl feel a whole lot better!

Luckily, I wasn’t going to miss my radiation treatment on Wednesday.  Not so lucky for me is that they would have to transport me by ambulance (seriously??  a little overkill) to the Proton Center about a mile away.  I told them to let me know in advance when the ambulance would be there so I could at least put on my cute chemo sweats rather than the lovely hospital gown I had been adorning.  But before I could even brush my hair, they were there ready to pick me up.  So, I had to go on a stretcher to radiation.  Imagine their surprise when they saw me being wheeled in on a stretcher, in hospital gowns.  No one had anticipated this scenario from me, the one who is always dressed cute and upbeat.  It was a little embarrassing for some reason…like they saw that I was weak, when I wanted to be strong.  It was humbling, for sure.  That next day I was more prepared, showered and ready when the ambulance arrived again to take me to radiation.  Thursday is also clinic day, but since I couldn’t get down to see Dr. Frank (my radiation doctor) he came up to see me.  It would be the last time I’d visit with him until early October when I have my scans and he (God willing) tells me I’m clear.  He is such an optimistic, intelligent, caring doctor that you can’t help but love him.  He told me how happy he is with how I’ve been responding to treatments.  My skin looks great and should heal beautifully.  He believes he has treated the tumor as aggressively as he can.  He is feeling hopeful about my vision in my right eye, since it is perfect right now.  But please continue praying that I don’t lose my vision as he had initially anticipated.  I told him that God is taking care of that one.  When we were done, I asked him if I could have a hug.   I didn’t know if this was weird or not, but this is the man that helped save my life.  I would miss him.  He gave me the biggest hug and said he’d see me in a couple months. 

I was hoping to be released from the hospital that day, Thursday, when the doctors made their rounds.  Luckily, Dr. Johnson (Dr. Glisson’s hospital counterpart) had seen how well I responded to the fluids and the blood and was going to release me. My Red Blood Count had jumped to 12, which she was amazed at.  I had to promise to drink 4-5 Boosts a day and 4 bottles of water a day (to avoid the feeding tube).  I was not able to venture to other options like I had the week before (pudding, eggdrop soup), because there weren’t enough calories and I would end up in the same situation.  I made a promise and for the last week I have had nothing but Boost and water.  I must tell you, that I can’t wait for the moment when I can have a piece of pizza!  On a side note, this reminds me that the hospital menu was off the hook!  I could only read it and wonder how delicious it must be.  The only time I’ve ever been hospitalized and I’m in a hospital with gourmet food, and I can’t even eat it…such a bummer.

We headed back to our temporary apartment by the hospital, only to have to gather our things and leave to a hotel.  We had told the rental company we’d be out on Thursday, not anticipating any delays.  But since my treatment would now be ending on Friday, we had to get a hotel for the night.  All I can say is thank goodness we spent the extra money on the apartment, because I don’t think I could’ve handled hotel living for 7 weeks!

And there we were…Friday, July 26th.  My last day of cancer treatment.  I pulled out a comfortable (but cute) dress to wear.  It was graduation day, of course, and I had to look the part.  I was excited and relieved that after today I would have no more radiation treatments.  This part of my journey was over.  It also made me a little sad, knowing I would be saying goodbye to the people that have helped to save me.  But anyways, we first headed to the clinic, where Dr. Frank had ordered graduation pictures.  They sound much more interesting than they really are…no portraits by the tree with my hair blowing in the wind.  Just clinical progress pictures of my face, my bald spot, my tongue sores and mouth opening.  But I kind of like the ring of ‘graduation pictures’, after all it is my graduation day.  After clinic, we headed to the Proton center where we were greeted at the reception desk by Deborah with a huge smile and “Good Morning Miss Cathleen!”  She was a ray of light shining so brightly in a place where hope is so necessary.  She made me happy every time I saw her and I would miss her.  Will took a picture of her and I so I could always remember her beautiful smile.  She then proceeded to give me my diploma!  Yes, I received a certificate of completion.  I must say that this diploma means more to me than my high school or even college diploma.  While each of those are significant in terms of knowledge and the time in my life, neither taught me more than what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown since being diagnosed with cancer and being treated at MD Anderson Cancer Center.  This diploma is symbolic of victory over cancer through Christ Jesus.  It is symbolic of my personal growth and understanding.  Yes, this graduation day tops them all!  And before it was over, I would have one last treatment.  They would give me my mask that I wore for 33 treatments.  What I would do with it I didn’t know, but I knew that it was a piece of my story that helped to save my life, and I would treasure it.  And before I walked out those doors for the last time in treatment, I would, in victory and glory ring that gong with pride and assurance that I would be restored to health by the healing hands of my savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  And when we finally made our way back home to Austin, I was greeted with a king size banner from my girlfriends tied between my front columns that read "Welcome Home Cathleeen!" and balloons from my dear neighbors tied to our lamppost.   What precious gifts, from precious friends. Happy Graduation Day, indeed!