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.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Seasons Come, Seasons Go........

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Foothills Parkway
November 3, 2013

The autumn season has come and gone here in the mountains of East Tennessee and I have largely missed observing it.   I'm learning a lot of valuable lessons about seasons of life as they come.  I hope and pray that I will be a better person who applies these life lessons as this difficult season passes.  I'm sure I'll be writing about some of the things I've learned as time goes by, but for today, I just want to show you a few pictures we took last Sunday (a week ago) on Bill's last day of "recovery" before chemo treatment round two began Monday.  

We just wanted to see some of fall foliage without the headache of traffic and thankfully, we are natives of this area and know exactly where to go to avoid the nightmares of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.  We headed toward the Foothills Parkway in Blount County and this is what we found.

Mile after mile of stunning yellow, red and orange trees with stunning vistas of the mountains in the background.  And just look at that road up ahead totally free of traffic.  At that hour of the morning, most tourists were in one of the many Pancake Houses back in the towns!

After exiting the parkway, we made our way out of the park and headed across some backroads few people know about and into the Cherokee National Forest to get a look at Bald River Falls.     We knew the falls would be crowded on a Sunday afternoon and would be at less than optimal flow in the dry season of early November, but took the risk anyway.

Bald River Falls - Cherokee National Forest
November 3, 2013

Remember, I am no photographer and I've posted pics of this waterfall before, but always taken in the early morning as I began the hike that runs alongside the waterfall for several miles.  I don't think I've ever seen the falls with this little water.  Normally the flow covers the rocks and I've see it tumbling ferociously during the rainy season.  And yes, we found the crowds here so we didn't linger.  Besides we were hungry and knew just where we were going...........

Don't come to the Tellico Beach Drive-In expecting anything fancy.  In fact, what you see in these pics is pretty much what you get as far as atmosphere, plus there is that big sign by the window that says, "no credit cards" and "no public restrooms!"  Waiting in line is guaranteed and believe me, they get in no hurry.  What you WILL get is a hamburger or hot dog made to order like they USED to make them before fast food joints ruined everything and crinkle cut french fries to die for.  

Fine waterfront dining at the Tellico Beach Drive-In
November 3, 2013

After our delicious lunch, we headed home.  Bill tires very easily and we'd been gone since early morning.  We were so thankful that he felt good and we were able to spend his last day before starting all over again out enjoying this autumn season as we watch it go!

We aren't real good with selfies, but I thought this one came out pretty good!
He looks normal to me since I'm used to him wearing a hat - who would know there's no hair under there?

Chemo treatment round two began one week ago today.  It's effects on Bill have been similar to round one, but we did learn some things and his doctor helped us with some ideas for managing the horrible nausea a little better this time.  But there are no two ways around it, chemo is awful for the person receiving the treatment and difficult for the caregiver to watch someone they love suffer so.  You would do ANYTHING to take away the sickness.  If this round continues to progress as the last one did, he will enter into his "recovery" period on Thursday and then have 1 1/2 weeks before treatment number three on November 25.  

Your kind words  have helped me tremendously and Bill is simply awed by so much support from folks who don't even know him!

Please continue to keep us in your prayers!

Monday, November 4, 2013

My Day In The Woods

Backcountry Campsite #18 - West Prong Trail
GSMNP - October 28, 2013

I honestly can't remember which of us discovered the blog of the other first, but Pam @ Nomadic Newfies and I have been reading each other's blogs for well over a year.  Pam and her husband live in Wisconsin and are still employed, but do a good bit of traveling each year in their RV.  I love seeing a state with which I'm unfamiliar through the eyes of someone who lives there, so I truly enjoy reading Pam's blog.  I've known for many months that they were planning to spend a couple of weeks in the Smokies during October and we both looked forward to meeting and doing some hiking together.  First, the government shutdown appeared as if it were going to derail their plans and then I got sidetracked with Bill's illness and treatment schedule.  It just didn't look like it was going to happen and I was so disappointed.  Thankfully, things stabilized here and we were finally able to get together on one of their last days in Tennessee.

Being sorely out of hiking shape and Pam still a bit intimidated by her midwestern, flatland hiking options at home, we chose a combination of two trails that are favorites of mine, yet very easy by Smokies standards.  The total hike was right at six miles which was perfect.  The easy and gentle terrain making it comfortable for us to talk while we enjoyed our surroundings.  As is the case with every single person I've met via this blog, Pam is delightful and I can only hope that there are more opportunities for us to hike again in the future.

I was happy to notice that at the lower elevation at which we were hiking, the trees had barely begun to change although here and there, we'd come across something stunning......

 I am hoping that Bill will feel well enough at some point during round two that we might at least be able to get out and enjoy some fall foliage, something that is normally a huge part of our year, but this year has simply been forgotten.  The hike yesterday reminded me that life does go on, seasons change and while things in nature will lie dormant for awhile, new life is just waiting to spring forth in a few months.  Hmmmmm, surely there is something in there that I need to embrace!

Thanks, Pam!  It was a wonderfully therapeutic day for me.  I hope for more just like it in the future!

Bill has enjoyed a good week in which he has felt almost "normal."  His appetite returned quickly with a few odd exceptions of things that still taste like metal, but thankfully he has eaten well and regained much of the weight he lost those horrible nine days after round one.

He begins round two today.  We have spent a good bit of time with his Oncologist and talked about ways we think his nausea can be better managed this time, so we are hopeful that this round will go a little smoother than last.  But there are no two ways about it, chemo is rough and Bill's specific treatment protocol is agressive, so keep him in your thoughts and prayers over the next several days.  At least we know there is a reprieve and the worst will have passed in about nine days.

Our fall foliage is just about at peak here in the East Tennessee valley and with Bill feeling well, we have covered lots of ground looking at leaves the past couple of days.  I'll share some pictures in my next post along with an update as to how round two is going.

One last shot of my hike with Pam that I can't resist posting.  Pam enjoys photography and seems to me to be pretty good at it, but one thing is for sure.....she'll do most anything to get the shot she wants.  I loved this is so HER!!

 All for the shot of a Sassafras Tree
(which apparently aren't found in Wisconsin)

Since I'll have lots of quiet time this week while caring for Bill, tell me what's happening in your life that I can keep in my heart and thoughts!