Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Quilt, Surgery and A Nerf Sized Tumor

Within days of finding out that I had another tumor on my pelvic bone and that I was going to have to undergo another surgery to remove it, my family and I had my cousins up to my parents house for dinner. My cousins have been huge prayer warriors for me and my family since we first found out about the original tumor in 2008. Friends of my cousin have a prayer group which makes "Prayer Quilts" for people they know are in the hospital or are going to have surgery, etc. This group of women make some beautiful quilts for people.

This dinner with my cousins was for me to receive my "Prayer Quilt." What a beautiful quilt it is as well. The purpose of the quilt is for these ladies to leave the final tying of the squares up to others who are or have been praying for that person. In my case, to this day, all my squares have been tied at least twice, which is a huge blessing to know how many people have been and still are praying for me. And, there are many that are not close enough to be able to tie a knot on my quilt, but they are still praying for me none-the-less. Do you know how many people that is? Let's just say it is in the triple digits. I feel so incredibly blessed to have so many people supporting me and my family in this way. And I am grateful to my cousin and her friends for creating the quilt for me.

Right now, this quilt is hanging in my bedroom for me to see and touch every day.

As tradition would have it,
grandma Marj always baked
our Christmas pies.
We were now closing in on 2010, getting ready to celebrate Christmas and Christ's birth. Christmas has always been a special time of the year for my moms side of the family. My dad's side of the family didn't really celebrate as their faith was not aligned with our family. None-the-less, my grandma baked the pies and had dinner with us while she was alive, even though she didn't believe as we do. I hold some very special memories and traditions we incorporated because of my grandma in my heart. I am sorry those traditions were not passed down so we could still share those with my dad. I feel it would have been very special for him if we had been able to.

All the girls in the early '80s.
However, with our family being so small, my mom still tries to make Christmas something extra special every year for us. Our newest tradition is opening our house to our neighbors on each side of my parents house and to any of my mom and dads friends we know are going to be alone. I also include a very close friend and her husband, Scott and Kathy Boyle, to celebrate with us as well. It's the one time of year I can sit down with them and just chill out, watch some football and talk. This time of year is also where our family takes our annual family and "girls" pictures.

The entire extended family photo.
When I was very young, all the ladies in our family would stand together and have our picture taken to see the generations (see above). After many years of not seeing part of our family, when we got back together and were talking about the things we "used to do," I had the idea of restarting that tradition. So, every year at Christmas (or Thanksgiving if Christmas wasn't going to work), the five of us ladies sit on the couch at whatever home we are gathered at, and we taken our annual "girls" picture.

But I didn't want to leave the guys out. I wanted to create a new tradition, and so we have someone take a family picture with the husbands behind their wives. And if we are blessed to have my grandfathers side of the family join us at the Newport Beach Annual Boat Parade party at my grandparents condo, I am able to get a picture of the whole family together (that has only happened once so far, see photo above left).

It was good to have a fun Christmas because it would be a very short time and I would be going through surgery again for cancer on my right leg and pelvis. So, as New Year's passed by, our family made several trips to the hospital for final testing and pre-op procedures. The closer we came to surgery day, the more real it became to me that this was happening.

Friday morning, January 15, 2010 was finally here. We took my dad's Jeep to the hospital. Mom had offered me a sweatshirt to wear in the car on the way up as it was a chilly morning. I declined as I was warm in the house getting ready. Once we were in the car and had switched freeways, my body was shivering out of control. This was not a normal response for me.

We arrived at the hospital and dad dropped mom and I off at the door to the check-in area, while he parked the car. I was still shaking uncontrollably. Dad joined us before I was called back to check-in with insurance verification and final signatures. I was still shaking uncontrollably. My name was called with a group of people and we were taken to the pre-op rooms. I was still shaking uncontrollably.

I changed my clothes to the hospital gown, hair covering and booties they require for surgery, answered all the questions with the nurses and finished all the current vital signs. I was still shaking uncontrollably. Finally, the anesthesiologist came in to talk about my sedation. I was still shaking uncontrollably. He realized I was going to need a sedative now because I was shaking uncontrollably. After several minutes from taking the sedative, the shaking finally stopped and I was almost ready to be taken in for surgery. Once out, I would have no idea what was going on until I had been awakened again in recovery. Hopefully, I would not be shaking uncontrollably (LOL).

After coming out of the anesthesia, I don't remember much of what my mom was telling me. She has a tendency to talk to me like I am fully coherent. I am sure I answered her with correct things, because I didn't get any responses later about not answering her. So, that was a plus in my favor. But, I do remember (and we have talked about it since) being told that the doctor came out to talk with my parents after surgery. Dr. Femino explained that all went well and the steps he took. He also told my parents the size of the tumor was that of a small Nerf football. What?!? This thing came out of nowhere and it was the size of a small Nerf football? How could that be?

Well, considering the size of the tumor it was not a surprise at all the doctors had to do. The remaining portion of my right pelvic bone and part of the left bottom portion had to be removed. My bladder had surgical mesh from my previous surgery attached to it, and when they tried to remove it, it nicked my bladder so they had to bring in a urologist to fix it. The tumor went down my right thigh slightly and had wrapped around either an artery or a main blood vessel. If they had cut it out at that point, it would have cut off the blood supply to my leg and I would have lost my leg (which was why we had the first surgery to save the leg). After all of this in surgery, my body had so much less flesh, that I had what looked like a sink hole from my lower stomach to my thigh. Even with swelling, it looked concave (and part of it still does).

So, recovery was a little rough this time around. I didn't have the brace like I did in the first surgery, which I was very grateful for. However, without the majority of my pelvis, it was very hard to walk. As you might be able to imagine, there is virtually no stability for the right side of my body as my core structure has been removed because of this cancer. Life would be much different now than it had been for the past 17 months. Again, I would need to rely on the Lord for my strength, both physically and spiritually.

Next..."Going Home is Not All It's Cracked Up To Be."

"Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." Psalm 1:1-3

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When You're Up, You're Down

August 2009 was a great time having come back from vacation, swinging a baseball bat again and celebrating one year of major accomplishments since the hip surgery. That alone deserved an entire year to celebrate. Just as a reminder, most of the doctors on my hospital case didn't hold out any hope that I would walk again following this surgery. Since then, I have done nothing but prove them wrong and walk continuously once I was up and stable.

White spot on bottom left of the bone, appears to be
more cancer within the pelvic bone.
Three more months would go by and the pain I was feeling in my right buttock area kept increasing. None of the tests we had done had any of the doctor concerned. From August to November, pain management was the only option that any of the doctors would entertain. After these three months, it was apparent to my surgeon that we needed to go back and do another PET Scan since my pain was only increasing. So, my mom flew back out to stay with me while I went through another battery of tests to see if there was a reason for the pain.

On November 2nd I had X-Ray's taken. As soon as the imaging came back, I had them sent directly to my surgeon in California. And I went through with having the PET Scan done as well. Time was closing in on Thanksgiving and mom and I were going to have a quiet meal at home. One day after one of my mid-day appointments, mom and I went to lunch at a local BBQ chain restaurant near my work. While ordering lunch, I received a call from my surgeon's nurse, Helen. Not much was said about the tests, however Helen made it clear that we should come back to California for additional testing, possibly another biopsy.

It was really difficult for me to concentrate on eating my lunch after this news. I was really upset by this news. I couldn't understand why after several "clear" tests in February and August, this test came back so questionable. The pain had been there for quite some time while the tests were negative. How could I have another mass again so fast?

So, mom and I had Thanksgiving and made it through to the next week. We left for California at the beginning of December so we could get to the City of Hope to begin another set of tests. I would undergo a bone scan to see if the density of my bones had been compromised and see if there was anything else the PET and CT Scans didn't pick up. They also did some more X-Rays and another CT to take a look at all aspects of the pelvic mass that appeared from nowhere, or so it seemed.

By mid-December, all tests were complete and I was meeting with my surgeon again to review everything. Of course, as soon as we saw him we wanted to know "why" all-of-a-sudden there was a mass that didn't show on the others in previous months. He explained that there had been evidence of something previously, but that it hadn't been large enough to be concerned at that time. What was troubling to me about this was the pain I had been telling him and other doctors about should have been a sign and something they should have taken seriously. I felt the good news they had been telling us over the past several months was just a bunch of bull. Despite the pain, I felt deflated as the positive reports turned to one of the worst pieces of news a cancer patient could get.

While this news was devastating to our family, it was another step in my faith journey that needed to be traveled. Some day, maybe not this side of eternity, I will understand why this journey has to be mine to take. Until then, to God be the glory forever and ever, Amen!

Next..."A Quilt, Surgery and a Nerf Sized Tumor"

"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen." Jude 1:24-25

Thursday, February 14, 2013

It's Been One Year and I'm Going Strong

Disclaimer: This is a long one today. Please make sure you have plenty of time to read this all the way through before beginning. There's a lot of good stuff in here.

August 2009:
After coming home from a good but painful vacation, diving back into work was easy. Most people say that they have a hard time focusing the first few days after returning from a long vacation like I had (three weeks!). I had no problem getting into the swing of things.

See the ball to the left of the man. It looks like the ball
is sitting on the ground by his feet.
And, speaking of swinging...

The department I worked in had a summer picnic every couple of years or so. The basic idea was to get out of the office for a short time, usually on a Friday and either do some team building exercises, or just have some plain 'ol fun as a group. Our vice president usually agreed more for the team building exercises so it was still a productive working day.

On a Thursday at the end of August 2009, our 30+ person Marketing & Communications department had our picnic at a local park. We grilled hamburgers and hot dogs for the bunch with all the typical side dishes and picnic fare. Spouses and children were invited to join in the festivities. After "lunch" was over, the ladies gathered in lawn chairs and blankets cheering on the men as they played unorganized softball and frisbee. The men encouraged the older children to join in as they felt comfortable doing to keep everyone busy and not bored.

Since the children were getting to "play," some of the ladies decided it might be fun to "play" a little too. I, of course, couldn't let everyone else have all the fun! I waited a while and finally joined in by going up to bat. I had played some softball when I was in high school, a little after college in the adult leagues as a substitute player and at our church's annual summer picnic. I knew I wasn't very good, but I still loved to hit the ball around.

I took off my flip-flops so I wouldn't worry about getting tripped up with them on. I grabbed a bat and swung it around in circles to warm up my shoulders. I walked with my cane to what we were calling "home plate," tossed the cane aside and got in the best batting stance I could with my hip and all. The pitcher threw a couple of really bad pitches both wide and low. Finally, after several attempts a great pitch came in and I launched that ball between the third base man and the short stop. Neither of them could field that ball, so it was up to the center-fielder. My job here was done. I could still play ball and NOT lose my balance and fall flat on my face. Today was a good day. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting with the ladies in the lawn chairs watching the guys and cheering on the kids that wanted to play.

The next day was another work day. But, this day also marked one year since I had my hip surgery. Since I was working, it didn't really hit me that it was my one year anniversary. When I did finally realize what the day marked, I talked with a couple of my co-worker friends about it. We talked about how well I was doing and getting along on my own. We talked about how my family felt about my living independently again; and how I felt on my own again.

It was great to look back on such a dire situation and see the hand of the Lord on me, my family and my doctors. From the anticipated 12 hour surgery only taking 6 1/2 hours, to the staph infection landing me back in the hospital for 5 weeks and being able to remove the body brace months earlier than expected.

I was talking with a co-worker the other day about answered prayers, faith and joy in the midst of trials. She had prayed for me in the morning devotions for cancer pain and I circled back with her later in the day to let her know that I didn't have any pain since she had prayed for the cancer in my chest. When people pray for us, it is a great boost to their faith when we let them know how the Lord answered their prayers. I'm sure there have been times where you had prayed for someone or something and wished you had known the outcome of that prayer. I have learned over and over again with the few friends and family I trust to take my requests to on a constant basis that letting them know their prayers are effective gives them great joy.

The scripture says, "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life." Jude 20-21

I think that this verse helps me to KNOW that my friends and family are better off when I tell them their prayers are (and even sometimes are not) working.

"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." 1 Peter 1:6-7

I believe it is important to build not only your faith, but the faith of those around you. And most frequently our faith is built through adversity rather than through good times because we are refined in the process. Our faith is of greater importance to the Lord than the riches of the world (which He created anyhow).

And finally looking back at the year since surgery, I can tell you there could have been many times where I let bitterness take control of my life. This affliction of cancer is no picnic. Not for me. Not for my friend Valerie and her husband Mitch (who is going through major trials with his cancer right now). Not for my grandma who is a survivor since the '80s. And, not for my family losing my aunt Jane in the early '80s either. Years went by in my childhood and teen years feeling guilty that I had been too scared to see my aunt in her failing condition. And I never got closure on her death.  But, in my own affliction now, I can recall the grace and hope of the Lord and I have worked through those feelings.

"I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." Lamentations 3:19-26

Focus on the good of the Lord. Every morning think of one good thing He has done for you specifically. Write it down if you have too. When you think about the good, it is hard to let the bad creep back in. Stay focused on the good of the Lord. It is the anchor of hope I have held on to through this affliction. People notice happy people. And being one of the Lord's is a happy place to be. People will take notice of it.

Here's to one year since surgery!!!

Have you been able to loo back at a time of adversity and see the hand of the Lord that brought you through? Share with us one of those times.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Tide is High...

Here are the last few lines of a recent post by my co-worker Toben Heim on The Simple Wife: "The tide feels like it is turning a little. There was a lot of bad and very little good there for a while but some good is creeping in. Yes! Let's keep it rolling!" (If you don't know much about this blog, The Simple Wife, please read back to January 2011 to understand why I find it important for me to follow.)

Toben's words got me thinking about the song, "The Tide is High," by the classic '80s group Blondie. The song was originally written in 1967 and performed by the Jamaican group The Paragons. But, Blondie's version is newer and more recognized. The lyrics are so not about our relationship with the Lord. However, I am claiming the chorus as my own anthem to Him. Here are the words (sing along out loud if you know the tune):
The tide is high but I'm holding on
I'm gonna be your number one
I'm not the kind of girl who gives up just like that
Oh, no
Repeated at the end of the song until it fades out with a bunch of ad libbing going on, is what I hear in my head over and over again. For anyone who really knows me, they know that I am NOT the kind of girl who gives up, period. I "Fight On" (hearing the USC Trojans anthem here), till the end (hearing the '70s "We Are The Champions" by Queen now). Who knew that three lines at the end of a blog post would elicit so many songs in ones head? Gosh!

Here's the point...

My life has been filled with so many issues from my health over the past several years. It has taken a physical and mental toll on me which has culminated in my feeling as though the tide keeps rising and never seems to ebb. As Toben reflected in his blog post about his families experiences of a lot of bad things happening with very little good; I can say the same thing for my life, just in a longer period of time. But, I am holding on and I am number one to the Lord. He cares that much for me. He cares that much for Toben and his family. And He cares that much for you!

The tide may be rising in your life, but hold on! God cares for you and you are number one in His eyes.

Next..."It's Been One Year and I'm Going Strong"

"Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows." Matthew 10:29-31 (New American Standard Version)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Weekend Colorado Treks, More Doctors and a Real Vacation

After returning to Colorado, life went back to normal with work and semi-daily calls home so the family knew all was well with me. The only difference now was that I was waiting with great anticipation for July to come so I could take a vacation and rest from all the therapy and running around from trying to make life livable in my new world.

Everything seemed to be alright. Walking with the cane proved to be wonderful compared to the walker or the four point cane. Time spent with my friends, was as close to it had been before as it could be. I was driving my car and aside from a little pain while sitting, it was like it had been before as well. My mom had made my apartment very livable for my new special needs, and I was able to adapt easily.

Mom came out in July to see me and to help me get ready for vacation in Hawaii. With the couple of weeks we had, we used the weekends to tour Colorado a little and show mom some new things about the state I live in. First, mom and I took off for the western slope of Colorado. We headed out Hwy 50 with stops at the Royal Gorge and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison before heading north to Grand Junction for the night. The next morning we headed to the Colorado National Monument for a little tour. Then, we hit the road east heading home to rest and get ready for work the next day again. We packed a lot into a two day trip, and it was satisfying to have accomplished things that I hadn't even done before. It was exciting, but I was beginning to really pay a heavy price for all this fun.

The next weekend, I had never been on the Cog Railroad so we made our reservations and took off up the 14er (short for 14,000 ft. mountain top). We had a very bumpy ride. So much so, that my little pain while sitting in my car was now a big pain and constant. But, the view from the top of the mountain was beautiful and the air was cool and crisp.

I worked a couple more days of the week before it was time to head to the airport for my long awaited vacation. I was off to Hawaii again, but this time I didn't have a surgery looming over my head, just PET Scans and X-Rays for a check-up. I was going to be able to enjoy this trip, or so I thought.

Mom and I got to California, where dad picked us up at the airport. We were going to stay for a couple of days and then all of us were going to fly over to Hawaii together. First, I had to see my doctors and get those six month tests out of the way. All went very well and we were happy being on our way to Maui.

My cousins were going to come along this time too, with my little cousin (just married) coming over for a couple of days without her husband (how did that go over?).

I really like Maui. It is a great place to relax and unwind with the sounds of the ocean waves rolling in to shore, the cool trade winds blowing through the palm trees and the smell of freshly picked pineapples from the local fields on trucks heading for the processing plant. Plus, I get to spend a lot of time in the water to take the pressure off my hip area. It really is great therapy for me. I get a lot of exercise in the water just floating around for hours at a time.

My time out of the water this trip was mostly spent laying in bed on my stomach to give my tailbone a rest. I thought that my tailbone had been bruised from the Cog Railroad, but it turned out that wasn't the case. We went through two weeks of a great vacation with me on my stomach for half the time. I'd have to find out what was going on with my tailbone area and why the pain seemed to escalate. That would have to wait until I was back in Colorado and working again, because my test all came out clear.

I also spent my 40th birthday in Maui. we had a great dinner out at a place called the Lahaina Fish Company. It was a lot of fun having an ocean side table and being able to see the sunset for our dinner entertainment (aside from my families antics).

Time ended in Maui, and it was back to reality of the daily grind.

Next...a side journey to present day..."The Tide is High."

What is your favorite vacation spot to forget about your daily chores or work?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Airplanes, Weddings and Mother's Day

In May 2009, my little cousin was getting married. She and her fiance, Jon, had been together for several years in and out of college. So, mom and I left from Colorado by plane to head to southern California. Only, mom would be staying and I would return to Colorado on my own. This would be a true test to see how I was doing having to travel by myself again.

I had always been a pro at traveling alone. I was never afraid of it. I rather enjoyed taking off to a destination and being greeted at the airport upon arrival. The only difference now was that I was handicapped. No big deal, right?

Mom and I arrived in California on Thursday. We needed time to be able to get to the rehearsal at the church on Friday, so we came in early to make sure we didn't have any plane delays keeping us from the festivities. Friday rolled around and I hitched a ride with my grandparents who needed to be there early as my grandmother was being escorted down that aisle as part of my cousins family. We don't have a very large family, so we have to make do with what we have. It was good to greet my cousins as they hadn't seen me since Christmas. It was a nice time watching the wedding rehearsal.

My grandparents during rehearsal.
My parents came not long after the rehearsal ended. Now was the time for the dinner. Our small family slowly made our way to the dining room where we were going to be. I got my cousins attention and showed her how well I had progressed since she last saw me. I was able to walk a short distance holding my single point cane and not using it. But, because of the wobble I had to walk with to do this, I made sure I didn't go too far without using the cane.

Once inside, all of the bridal party was gathering around in bunches as they knew everyone else. Our little family was out of place as we only knew the bride, her parents and the groom. Not much else we could do but try to blend in as best as possible. One of my "little" cousins friends talked with my grandmother for quite some time, but not many others came to see us let alone talk with us. It was a little awkward to say the least. But, we were family and participating none-the-less. And this was about family, not comfort.

That night I went home with mom and dad instead of my grandparents. It made a lot more sense, that way my grandparents could go straight home instead of dropping me at my parents house. My parents and I didn't talk much about the rehearsal or the dinner on the way home, we were tired and wanted to get to bed for the wedding the next day.

We had a few things to do in the morning and very early afternoon before we could head off to the wedding. When we arrived, everything was still closed off so people couldn't be escorted in by the ushers yet. As soon as the sanctuary was ready, the ushers filtered people to seats as quickly as they could. Mom, dad and I were seated next to my grandparents seats as part of the family row. We left two seats for my grandparents and I had my mom sit next to her mom. I sat at the other end of our family so I would have a little more room to move about if I got uncomfortable.

The wedding was nice and went off without any major hitches from what I knew. Some small little mishaps, which are par for the course of any wedding. After the wedding, the family and the bridal party was taking pictures. Mom, dad and I hung out in the back behind the closed doors peaking in at the family. Someone came to the door and said we were to go in for family pictures as well. This was a shock for us because we weren't part of the wedding. But, my "little" cousin felt sad because her family was so small that she wanted my parents and I in the pictures as well. I did my best to get up the steps of the platform with help from my dad and mom. Once up there, I made sure not to move so I wouldn't stumble toward the steps.

We took our family shots and my cousins were all grateful. Mom and dad (and my cousins dad) all helped me down the steps and back to the chairs until pictures were complete. Then we all made our way to our cars and to the reception site at Jon's workplace, a Christian Credit Union with a very large facility. We found ourselves seated at the brides parents table for dinner. We were right at the front of the reception hall near the bride and groom seated with my cousins. Everything was so hectic for them that we barely got to sit and see them for the entire evening.

I have a love/hate relationship with weddings. I love that two people are making a commitment to each in the presence of God and all the witnesses at the wedding. But, I hate that fact that no matter how many weddings I go to, I am always single. That has been a hard thing for me for so many years. And for my "little" cousin to be getting married was a little bit of a sting (not her fault at all). It is just something that God and I still have to work through. Anyhow, I digress. We stayed long enough to see the couple off on their honeymoon and then we went home. We needed to get some more rest as we had a big day on Sunday. It was Mother's Day.

Mom, dad and I at Duke's Huntington Beach for brunch.
After dad and mom got back from church, we met my grandparents at Duke's Huntington Beach. Tis Hawaiian feel restaurant at the top of the Huntington Beach pier was a place we went when we wanted to celebrate. And celebrate we did. We always have a great time at Duke's.

After the weekend festivities were over, I took my maiden voyage back home to Colorado by plane alone. I was very sore from a weekend of being on-the-go, and wished for a few days of rest. However, reality dictated that I go back to work and earn money to live on. My weekend had been good spending it with my family.

Next..."Weekend Colorado Treks."

"For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen." Ephesians 3:14-21