Monday, February 3, 2014

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends!

Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
December, 2012

A more appropriate post title would've read, "I'd have long since gone under without a LOT of help from my friends!"  I don't think I've ever taken my friends or the joy of friendship for granted, but never before have I needed my friends in the way that I have in the past few months.  And boy, have they ever come through in ways I never could've seen coming.  In quieter times when I've been alone or Bill has been sleeping, I've spent a good bit of time contemplating what it really means to be a friend.  A friend who is able to give of myself to others, but is also able to RECEIVE from others especially when I have little or nothing to give back.  

Don't be surprised if friendship doesn't become a recurring theme over the next while as I share some of the things I have learned or am learning.  And don't be surprised if you don't like some of the things I might say cause rest assured, six months ago, I REALLY wouldn't have liked some of things I might say.  Even worse is I would've passed them off with a shrug that implied my indifference or attitude that what had been said couldn't possibly apply to me!

As I sit quietly here on a Sunday afternoon in our living room watching Bill sleep peacefully (thank goodness), two things come to mind.............

For 36 1/2 years, Bill has been my spouse, my rock and my BEST FRIEND!  He knows me better than anyone ever has, he gets angry with me and quickly forgives, he does so many things quietly and efficiently that I have no idea how to do, he simply loves me unconditionally and enjoys seeing me happy.  Because of all those reasons (and believe me, I know how lucky I am), I think I've failed to cultivate other friendships that run as deeply.  Don't get me wrong - I have LOTS of good, close friends. But none that know me like Bill does.  So when my "rock" went down particularly since it was something we NEVER saw coming, I was and am still left floundering about often feeling like a ship without a motor in the vast sea of uncertainty.  And people, it's scary!  But with the help of folks around me who have stepped out of the woodwork, I'm learning to ask for what I need and accept what is offered.  The reward for me is that I already know that when Bill is better and life moves on, I am far, far richer for the relationships that have soared during this time.  

Don't get me wrong.....I believe that when we marry and pledge our lives to another person, that person SHOULD be our best friend, but they can't be our ONLY "best" friend!  Life can change in an instant - make sure all your eggs aren't in one basket!  I am so grateful for people who have stepped up when I haven't been remotely capable of asking for or verbalizing what I needed.  Heck, I haven't even KNOWN what I needed.  But others have and I will be eternally grateful.

I said two things, didn't I?   Well forget that.  This post will be long enough after I give a report on how Bill is doing, so the second thing will just wait till later on in the week.  But it's a good one.  One I'm incredibly guilty of and will likely continue to be even with my resolve NOT to do this in the future!  And guess what?  You've probably said this very thing sometime in the last week!

Bill has completed 11 of his 30 (+ or -) radiation treatments and is probably doing better than we expected.  We've been warned things are likely to go downhill quickly, but we are trying to remain positive that he is doing everything possible to make those side effects less than horrible.  So far, the worst has been almost 100% loss of taste.  If you weren't miserable, it would be very interesting to observe just how this works.  Meat was the first to go followed by bread and it went quickly from there.  As of today, he still receives some taste sensation from sugar (of course!!), things that are tart and soft dairy items like pudding.  Thankfully, dairy is not bothering his stomach as he is pretty much existing on Boost/Ensure type liquid shakes.  Not your yummy menu by any stretch of the imagination, but four of those daily plus a Smoothie in the morning gets the calories/nutrition he needs and the dietician has said not to worry about the sugar for now.  And as of this morning, he was still drinking coffee!  Go figure?  During the chemo last fall, that was the very first thing to go!  

He has had a little bit of "thrush" and the dry mouth so typical of head/neck radiation is starting.  But the horrible sore throat, mouth sores and complete lack of saliva are thankfully, for a few more days at least, not present!  The fatigue is ever present, but manageable especially when he is able to rest and recuperate in the evenings.  

Please remember him in your thoughts.  You've "known" him through me for almost four years now and we consider you to be "friends."  A different kind of "friends," but still friends who have the same capacity to care even at a distance!  We thank you for that.

Tell Me About A Friend of Yours OTHER Than Your Spouse!

Monday, January 20, 2014

We Begin Again.....

Choosing Which Direction!
Goshen Prong Trail - Great Smoky Mountains National Park - January, 2012

I confess upfront that this post has no particular message to convey so it may be all over the place.  To be honest, I have struggled with sitting down to write and I'm not sure why.  I think about it all the time and thoughts swirl in my head throughout the day.  But getting them written down is another thing completely!  Perhaps I should cut myself some slack and remember that my life is unlike its ever been before and my "routine" as I knew it is most likely forever changed.  That's a bit scary and something with which I'm still coming to terms.  I've never been afraid of change, yet when you are in the midst of it with no real picture yet of what the other side is going to look like, that adds an additional element of uncertainty.  I loved your comments on my "Lighten Up" post and find myself repeating that over and over frequently.  There's already been so many vivid lessons on ways I really needed to learn this.  Just wish I could've learned it sooner and wish Bill didn't have to be suffering so much in order for me to learn it.

Speaking of Bill, he began the first of 30 radiation treatments last Thursday which means he will finish around the end of February.  We are beginning to be quite paranoid about any doctor appointment because it always seems to bring more news we don't like.  Thankfully, his doctors are all working together and after consulting with each other, had determined that even though the results of Bill's most recent PET Scan were very good and the chemo had done what it was supposed to, they wanted a add a very low dose of chemo to the radiation treatments in order to be absolutely certain that any rogue cells were eliminated once and for all.  We were assured that the chemo dose was so low he should feel no noticeable side effects.  Let's hope that is the case.  Bill was told that he should be "o.k." for the first couple of weeks of radiation.  He will experience some very nasty side effects unique to receiving radiation to the head and neck area.  We are doing everything possible to try and stay ahead of those and keep him as comfortable as we can.  We both just want this to be over!  

It has been so wonderful to have the Bill I've known and loved for all these years back for the last few weeks.  Neither of us realized how tired and run down he had really become and we wonder how long that tumor had been growing before we found it.  For the last month, he has had energy, enjoyed walking with me and we've spent so much time with friends/family.  He has loved being back in school.  So you can see how difficult it is to think of him having to step backward again in order to finish treatment and then take that huge leap forward.  

As I was looking for a picture for today's post, I had to look backward because I simply have not had my camera in hand.  Truthfully, right now I'm not even sure where it is!   The picture I posted caught my eye because I remember standing at that spot thinking what a perfect illustration of choices.  It would be my guess that those two streams come back together not to far beyond where you can see. That's the general pattern for the rivers in the Smokies.  The point is, you CAN'T see that and you DON'T know.  Our life will come back together.  Bill will finish treatment and we will move on.  In the meantime, I have to choose which path to take.  Do I choose to be afraid of how the treatment will effect him, depressed that this is happening to him at all or angry that it has effected ME so much?  Or do I choose to continue learning how this experience has taught me to "lighten up," reminded me that love and compassion for others is much more important than any personal agenda I might have and feeling gratitude for all the blessings/gifts I've received in the midst of pain and suffering?

Well, here's the deal!  A very tidy blog post would now declare that oh yes, I choose the later.  And I do chose the later!  But I don't mind admitting that I've spent some time on BOTH sides of that picture.  I am human and I love my husband.  I can't bear to watch him suffer physically or emotionally.  There are days when I am afraid, depressed and VERY angry.  I don't think I'd be human if I didn't admit to all those emotions.  

The other thing I noticed in that picture is the island or "oasis" in between those two streams.  I remember well the day I was there and having the conversation with my hiking bud about how wonderful it would be to camp on that island.  How calming it would be to sleep with the sound of that rushing water all around you.  So for now, I'll just say I'm spending time on both sides of that island and am so very thankful for the calm of the "oasis" in the middle which sometimes allows me to simply rest!  

Rest in the knowledge that somewhere up the road in the not two distant future, those streams will converge, we will move forward and all will be well!  

Where are you today?

In the difficult side of the stream, the easy side of the stream or resting on the island?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lighten Up......My Theme For 2014!

Couldn't Resist One More Christmas Picture!
Our Living Room (Can't Believe I Didn't Turn the Fire On)

Although I have always been extremely goal-oriented with an ongoing list of written goals for which I am striving, I've never been one for making New Years resolutions.  I have, however, always loved having "themes" or "mantras" if (and ONLY if) something came to me without much effort.  If I had to think about it or work hard to come up with something, it always seemed forced.  2013 never had much of a theme for me and to be honest, it was a year of struggle almost from the beginning.  I didn't feel well much of the year, wasn't able to hike a lot because of that and although I kept my weight fairly steady, there wasn't much joy in the process. We didn't travel much and I missed that.  Bill was already feeling "tired" and we might should've suspected something was amiss even though he'd checked out perfectly at his annual physical.  Then halfway through the year, my life snowballed, first with the quick decision to buy the condo, our move and then finally, the total shock of Bill's cancer diagnosis.  Looking back over the year, about the only word I can come up with to describe it is chaos.  Yet I find myself looking back over it with gratitude for lessons learned.

As the year drew to a close, I found myself saying one thing to myself over and over at the strangest times over the weirdest things.  In one of those light-bulb moments, I realized that "lighten up" was going to my "theme" for 2014.  During the long, dark days of Bill's chemo treatments when he was so sick, my thoughts often turned to how often I stress over things which all of a sudden became very unimportant.  My needs and wants became very simple.  In fact, I only had one.  "Please make my husband well."  How much I weighed, what I ate, whether or not I ate sugar, how much money we had, where it was invested, when we would retire, where we'd travel next year, what I was going to wear to my niece's wedding, why the tire pressure light was on in my car, whether I had 10,000 steps that day or not, why wouldn't our house sell, yada, yada, yada.....you get the picture!  Sadly, I could go on and on and on.  Many times I'd come out of a fog, shake my head and just simply say to myself, "lighten up!"

As time went on and there began to be better days for Bill, I'd start thinking those same thoughts with a bit more clarity.  You see, I do believe all those things are important and life does require us to live responsibly and plan for our futures.  But I also believe that for me, personally, way too much time, energy and effort was being put into some of those things when it could be much better used elsewhere.  Some of those things were coming between me, my relationships with others and even more importantly, my ability to love others unconditionally.  

So this year is going to be my year to "lighten up!"  My mind is swirling with ideas that will be challenging, but combined with other things happening in my/our life, will also (if properly and sacrificially applied) make me a better person.  Over the next several posts, I'm going to break down some of the areas in which I intend to "lighten up" and share my thoughts with you in the hopes that you'll have some ideas to share with me in return.  I'm excited and ready to write!


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Processing.........

First Baptist Church, Lebanon, TN - December 14, 2013

This was the scene from the balcony of the church about one hour prior to the wedding ceremony of my niece.  It was quiet, peaceful and one of the most beautiful settings I'd experienced in a long time.  Bill and I simply "sat" with our thoughts, emotions, fears and excitement.  For so many weeks prior to the wedding, we had no idea if we'd even be able to be there, so we also sat there with tears of joy and thanksgiving.  The ceremony was simple, elegant and perfect.  She was a beautiful bride and we couldn't be prouder of her.  We are so thankful that she chose to attend the University of Tennessee for her undergrad studies and now is in her second year of Vet School also at UT.  We will have her here for another couple of years and secretly wish she might join a Vet Practice locally so we can keep her forever.
 
 Aunt Sharon, Uncle Bill and Niece April
December 14, 2013

Not the greatest picture in the world of Bill and me....I think our weariness shows both in our posture and our faces.  Bill was less than three weeks out from his last chemo treatment and the trip wore him out, but like I said, we were just thankful to be there!


December 14, 2013

I wanted you to see this picture so you could see our other niece, April's younger sister, of whom we are equally proud, plus my gorgeous sister and brother-in-law!  April honored me by asking to wear MY wedding veil and I thought it worked perfectly with her dress.  It has been almost 37 years since that veil was worn the first time!

We had a wonderful Christmas!  Bill's strength has returned slowly, but steadily.  We have taken full advantage of our first holiday season in the condo by entertaining small groups several times and hosting my family's Christmas celebration.  It has been just what we both needed - precious time surrounded by friends and family.  

The New Year rolled in quietly and peacefully.  I am not the least bit embarrassed to tell you we were both sound asleep at the stroke of midnight.  We spent yesterday taking down Christmas decorations, talking about the challenges we faced in 2013 and making plans for 2014 which will also begin with more challenges.  

Bill had his post-Chemo PET Scan this past Monday and we will meet with his Radiation Oncologist next Tuesday to discuss results and determine where we go from here.  We are told that radiation is in his future no matter what the scan tells us "as a precaution!"  He is not looking forward to that, but in his usual fashion, is facing it head on and doing everything he can NOW to pave the way by being as healthy as he can.  He is eating well and gaining weight.  I am reading everything I can get my hands on about what he will be able to eat while undergoing radiation and how I can help him be creative in getting calories in his body!  

We are just so very, very ready for this to be in his past and he be given a clean slate!  We've already spent many hours discussing what we will do with this clean slate and how we will be different.  I'll be sharing some of our thoughts in upcoming posts!  In the meantime, I hope that each of you are looking forward to 2014 with anticipation and remembering 2013 more for what you gained than what you lost!

Thanks So Much for Continuing to Read Gains and Losses!
Your Support Has Meant the World To Me!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Journey Continues.....

Our First Snow From the Condo Sun Porch
November 27, 2013

To my Blog Friends who are digging out from the weekend snow, this doesn't look like much, but it was significant for a couple of reasons.  November 27 is VERY early for us here in East Tennessee to have snow at all, much less enough that can actually be seen laying on the ground. It was fun for us because it was the first snow since we moved into our condo.  Unfortunately, it was the day before Thanksgiving also known as the heaviest travel day of the year, so while we were enjoying our little skiff of snow, our neighbors to the west, north and northeast were either cursing the weather or getting ready to curse it over the next 24 hours!  

Speaking of enjoying the snow from our condo Sun Porch, I am starting this post with very happy news.  Unless something goes horribly wrong between now and 2 p.m., this picture says it all........


Our old house is SOLD!  We close today at 2 p.m.  We will once again be the owners of only one residence!  In the end, it took less than six months for the house to sell which, in today's market, is a fact for which we should be grateful.  However, given all we've been through in that six months, it has seemed like an absolute eternity!  Driving through the neighborhood, there are a plethora of houses for sale (many of which were for sale long before ours) and I saw no other SOLD signs except for the one in our yard. 

We never questioned the move and continue to fall more in love with our condo and its location with each passing day.  In fact, I'm not sure we've ever seen more clearly the hand of God working behind the scenes weaving the tapestry of our lives in the way that best prepared us for the journey we were about to begin!  But in the weaving, there's sure been some lessons learned about what is important, what is NOT important and how we plan to live our lives for the remainder of the time we have on this earth. 

Bill's Chemo journey is over.  Round Three was very difficult as we expected.  We were told very candidly that the effects of chemo are cumulative and we found that to be true.  Thankfully, he is now three weeks out and for the first time in nine weeks, we begin a week in which he DOESN'T have to go in for a treatment and we can truly begin to see him recover.  His appetite is returning slowly, food is tasting good again although he has to eat very slowly as the food takes awhile to work its way down a very irritated (from the chemo) path to his stomach.   But that has even seen a noticeable improvement over the past couple of days.  The fatigue is still a factor.  He sleeps at least 10 hours each night and takes one or two naps each afternoon.  We have to be mindful of the fact that he has just completed the semester at school and is ALWAYS tired on this week of the year.  We are confident that this week will see much improvement all the way around.

The doctor was very happy with Bill's response to the Chemo.  The swelling in his neck has completely disappeared and he is no longer able to feel the knot that was the tumor.  However, the next PET Scan scheduled for December 30th will show us what, if anything, is still going on inside.  Unfortunately, he was told that he would likely be facing radiation after the first of the year.  This was a huge downer for us as we weren't expecting it.  And certainly not the number of radiation treatments that was thrown out.  We've been doing lots of research and will have lots of questions for the doctor.  

But for now, we are rejoicing that the chemo is over and that Bill is beginning to rebound.  He is far from the Energizer Bunny Bill I'm used to, but I see glimpses and my heart soars with gratitude.  We have learned so much about life, time, love, commitment and all those things people who have been married for 36 1/2 years MIGHT have begun to take for granted.  I expect you'll be hearing about many of those things after the first of the year.

I am not taking any sort of formal Blogging "break," but please know that my posting may be sporadic through the end of the year (as if it already hasn't been!  LOL!).  My focus is totally on what is right in front of me here at home.  With Bill feeling slightly better, we are working on finding balance between the friends and family who've missed us and want to spend time with us and keeping Bill rested and more importantly, WELL.   

But then who knows.....I've enjoyed writing this post so much, I may write another one!  There is so much to tell.  I am so grateful for the joy this blog has brought into my life and the friends I've made.

What are your Christmas plans?  Will you travel?  Are you ready?


Monday, November 25, 2013

Two Down, One To Go!

Little River Trail - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
November 19, 2013

I don't know what it's like in your neck of the woods, but the frigid winter air with a stiff north wind accompanying it arrived in East Tennessee with a vengeance!  We went from mild, autumn like temps with calm breezes (perfect walking weather) to low 20s with wind chills in the teens OVERNIGHT!!  Yesterday was clear with brilliant sunshine, but somehow you could just tell by looking out the windows that the sunshine was deceiving!  

We had the most wonderful weekend!  Bill has had an excellent "recovery" week following round two of his chemotherapy treatments.  His appetite and taste buds returned, he regained some weight and his energy level, although obviously compromised, has allowed him to do some things he enjoyed.  One of which was decorating our home for Christmas.  We traditionally decorate on the Friday following Thanksgiving (which should tell you exactly how we feel about Black Friday), but given this year will be totally different, we decided to go ahead and decorate while Bill was feeling good.  Since we have a whole new place to decorate, we wanted the time to be really special.  And it was.  We got started Friday evening, took a break on Saturday and finished up on Sunday afternoon.  The condo looks beautiful and it is amazing how lovely our decorations look and fit in the new spaces.  The only thing we had to buy was a wreath for the front door.  The only thing we can't use are the giant wreaths which we always placed on the front windows of our 70-year old Cape Cod we moved out of!  I am so glad we got this done.  It will bring Bill a great deal of comfort next week when he is feeling so miserable!

On Saturday, we enjoyed our traditional Thanksgiving feast with our families!  Who says it HAS to be on Thursday?  The only "tradition" we didn't get to do was watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!  Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday and we have followed traditions established 36 years ago when we first got married.  When his treatment plan was set, Bill almost immediately recognized that Thanksgiving Day would fall during his lowest part of round three and he'd be unable to go anywhere, see anyone or do anything!  It was a tough pill to swallow, but after making it through round one and seeing that there truly is a "recovery" period, it was his idea to celebrate our Thanksgiving on the Saturday before when he would feel his best.  It was a wonderful day of thanksgiving and celebration.  Yes, Thursday will still be tough, but we'll be o.k.

Thanks to dear friends, Gene and Judi Curp, I was able to hike in my beloved mountains last Tuesday.  On a spectacular autumn day in the Smokies, we did the five mile Cucumber Gap Loop, and as always, I was reminded that there is no better therapy than doing what you love with friends who love you!  How eternally grateful I will always be for the friends I have met through writing this blog!  

Yes, Round Three is tomorrow and yes, we wish it were behind us.  Because of the holiday, this round is a tiny bit different.  The med which is continuously infused through a pump will come off on Wednesday instead of Friday shortening it by 48 hours and halving the amount of the drug he will receive.  His oncologist has been very pleased with Bill's progress and says this will be "enough."  We believe this is the med that has made him the sickest over the longest period of time, so we are in hopes that the shorter infusion time might make a difference in how sick he is and might allow him to "recover" a bit earlier!  However, we are also a bit nervous as the holiday weekend also means we will be without the "lifeline" of our doctor's office from Wednesday evening through Monday morning.  Yes, they are available and a doctor is on call, but it still isn't the same as being able to reach them immediately.  Should Bill become dehydrated, he'd have to go to ER rather than to the office for fluids!  So please keep us in your thoughts this week and specifically, that he will be able to drink enough fluids on his own to stay hydrated and the shortened infusion period will allow him to recover quicker!

I wish each of you a Happy Thanksgiving.  Please, PLEASE take time to celebrate every blessing you've been given.  Live every moment to its fullest potential never forgetting that everything can change in an instant!  And in the midst of your Thanksgiving, find someone who might NOT be feeling "blessed" right now and using the resources you have, see if you can't make a difference in their day.  

Thank You for the Blessing of Your Friendship!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Round Two Is Behind Us!

Covered Bridge near Tellico Plains, TN
November 3, 2013

I am so thankful to report that yes, Chemo Treatment Round Two is behind us.  Bill has entered the "recovery" period and will have a week of reprieve before his third and last treatment on Monday, November 25.  In many ways, round two was a bit easier as we were able to make some adjustments in meds based on the things we learned from round one.  As we'd been told, round two was similar to round one in the timing of how specific side effects hit.  But there were many things that were different and with the nausea better controlled, it seems a couple of other unpleasant side effects took center stage.  His "recovery" period actually was a full day later in getting here.  We weren't expecting that!  The cumulative effects are more evident as he is still quite fatigued, has lost more weight and just doesn't have the stamina he'd hoped for.  He is doing a terrific job managing his activity and trying his best to eat food that will provide nourishment even though those aren't necessarily the things which sound the best to him.  He is sleeping well and that, in itself is a blessing. 

How am I coping?  That's a good question.  Some days I feel like I'm doing great - other days, not so much!  Some days, this all still seems like a dream and I'll wake up with everything being as it was except that I'll have a renewed appreciation for the strengths of my husband and the stability he has always brought to our marriage.  We've talked a lot over the past few weeks about how neither of us feel we've ever taken the other for granted, but when faced with having to handle EVERYTHING, you suddenly realize how much your spouse does on a daily basis that he just did and you never thought twice about it.  Most days, I'm well aware that this is no dream and we have a long way to go before our life will be "normal" again.  I also believe that our "normal" will look very different.  We are both changed people (for the better, I hope).  Another topic of conversation has been ways in which we will live differently with priorities that might be a bit kinder, gentler and less self-centered. I expect there will be a lot more about that in upcoming blog posts!

There are a few things I have managed to do quite well and I think that has been advantageous to my overall ability to cope.  I have faithfully exercised with very few days that I have not recorded at least 10,000 steps on my pedometer.  When Bill has been so sick, I've been unable to eat either, so yes, I've lost weight, but during his recovery week, we eat well and therefore, my weight balances out.  During the most stressful period I've ever experienced, I'm managing to maintain an exercise routine AND maintain my weight.  That tells me I've learned something through the years that is able to run on auto-pilot when it has to.  My dear friend, Debby, wrote a post over the weekend that really spoke to me and said some of these same things.  She's been doing some thinking too!  Here's a link to that post.

The thing which seems to be most evident of my stress is my inability to concentrate.  I can't settle down to read, I have no desire to cook, even sitting down to write takes a lot of effort.  I leave one room to get something out of another and when I get there, I can't remember what I needed.  I've learned that leaving the house without a detailed, specific list of where I'm going and what I need from each store is futile.  Bill doesn't seem to be having this problem - I'm the one who seems to have Chemo brain!

When you read this, I will either be heading out to my beloved mountains to hike or already be there.  Thanks to wonderful friends who have said, just let us know when you can go, we've planned a short hike to accommodate the fact that I'm way out of shape, but it will get me in the woods and on a trail.  Right now, I can't think of anything more therapeutic.