Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mountains To Climb

Last summer Sue and I took a 50 mile backpack through the Sierra Nevada mountains. Backpacking the Sierras has been our summer custom for as long as we’ve been married (coming up on 29 years now). We hiked a familiar trail out of Kings Canyon – the Rae Lakes Loop. Sue carried a 35 pound pack up steep trails, over a 12,000 foot pass and back to the point of beginning in five days. 10 miles a day in steep terrain with a 35 pound pack is pretty good for a 50-ish lady (who looks 30-ish, you know).

Yesterday we took a level ¼ mile hike along the paved road from Lakeview Cottages to dam number 2 at Huntington Lake. The accomplishment was almost as exhilarating to Sue as cresting that 12,000 foot pass last summer. During the previous two weeks of whamo therapy (my new term for chemo therapy) Sue would not have had the energy to make that short hike. This was her first off week and by the end of it Sue actually had the energy to do more than sleep, rest, and sleep. Being able to take this short hike was a ray of hope; maybe she will again be able to climb mountains.

Meantime, she has a different kind of mountain to climb. Doc has prescribed three more two-week sessions of whamo thereapy, each followed by one week off. Then, who knows? A lot of people can’t or won’t climb the mountains they face. That’s not Sue. It may take her a while, but if there’s a trail up and over the mountain, she’s going to climb it.

Hey, Maybe You’re Not Going To Die

The first two weeks of chemo therapy have passed. It was hard for me to know if Sue was on a rapid track for death or if the treatments were just grinding her down, down, down. Turns out to be the latter, apparently. Maybe.

Doc has Sue on a two weeks on and one week off cycle. By the end of the first week off, Sue had regained some of her energy. Just in time to start another two week regimen. I’m renaming it whamo therapy. Woohoo!! What a ride.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Every Hair On Your Head

“We are all praying for you,” or “We’ll be praying for you. In the last two weeks I think at least 300 people have told me they are or will be praying for Sue (and me and the girls). Quite possibly the number who are praying is much higher. Some may be praying for Sue who haven’t even told her they would.

Let’s say 500 people join in prayer for Sue once a week on Sunday when the pastor makes them, and half that many (250) pray for her one additional time a week, and half that many (125) pray for her once a day, and half that many (75) pray for her twice a day. Now, assuming our assumptions and our math are correct, we have, for Sue alone, over 1,000 prayer petitions going up to God every week. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 11 million American people were living with cancer in 2005. Presumably the number is higher today. Presumably the number is much higher worldwide. But if just the 11 million in the U.S. have 1,000 prayer petitions offered for them weekly, then God receives 11 billion cancer prayer petitions per week for Americans only.

Now factor in world population and the myriad other reasons besides cancer that people might petition God – non-cancer illnesses and injuries, financial problems, marital problems, relationship problems, addictions etc. You can now imagine that God probably gets trillions of prayer petitions a day.

It would be easy to be cynical about God’s ability to hear and process and respond to each one of these trillions of prayers personally and compassionately. But I am not cynical about it because I have experienced God’s direct response to prayer. I don’t know how God does it, but I guess God is bigger than we think.

[Note: The reply comment by Jim is worth reading.]

Saturday, May 23, 2009

In Drugs We Trust

We sat together in the waiting room at the oncology center and we were both amazed at the numbers of people coming in to be treated for cancer. We’ve commented on this to each other before after reading the church bulletins – that it seems like a lot of people have cancer. We personally know several dozen cancer fighters and cancer survivors.

I think it musta usta have been worse when they told you “you’ve got cancer.” Before they had drugs to treat the stuff. Back then it was like, “well, how long do I have left?” Before that, I guess, people just died and nobody knew it was cancer.

Now? It’s all about chemical therapy and beating the cancer, working toward “cancer free,” or, in the case of multiple myeloma, “managing” the cancer.

Multiple myeloma is one of the tough cancers. A genre of the stuff which resists going away. Still, the doc is optimistic. She’s got a lot of patients, she says, who are years past the discovery and who are managing quite well. The drugs available today are better than the drugs of yesterday, and new drugs are emerging and being tested even today.

The drugs are good. The drugs are potent. For the time being we still have health insurance. There’s no need to despair.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I Didn’t Know You Had So Many Friends

My wife’s cancer is hell on my diet. Every day, sometimes twice a day, people bring us food. Our refrigerator is bulging at the seams with chicken, salads, pasta dishes, casseroles and drinks.

People I know and some I’ve never seen stop by or call to chat with Sue. It really cheers her up. It really wears me out.

It also moves me to tears. I didn’t know my wife had so many friends. A nurse friend sat with Sue through her first chemo therapy treatment. Our neighbor came over and sat with Sue today and then cleaned up our kitchen while Sue napped. She says she’d do anything for Sue and I believe her. She’s already done a lot. Another nurse friend came over at 11 p.m. tonight to administer a shot of Demerol (good stuff, that Demerol). My sister took over Sue’s part-time job taking reservations and returning phone calls for our Lakeview Cottages. Co-workers, church friends, old friends, new friends. So many people pitching in, weighing in, stopping in.

There was a popular country song last year to the effect that, when you’re down and out, “you find out who your friends are.” I’ll tell you this, my wife’s got a lot of friends. But for this cancer, how would I have ever known that?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

How Quickly The Mighty Fall

Gottschalks filed for bankruptcy last month and is closing 52 big box retail stores. Mervyn’s went bust a few months ago. The big banks would all be out of business but for the mega-bucks Federal bail outs. And G.M., Ford, and Chrysler are all teetering on the brink of extinction.

I remember as a kid thinking that nobody could come in to the U.S. and compete with the Big 3. They were just too big and too dominant. Well, “the bigger they are the harder they fall.” That was the mantra of my high school football coach, Mr. Mitchell, when he wanted to pump us up to not be afraid of the bigger teams we played against. Now my wife drives a Honda, both of my girls drive Volkswagens, and I own a Yamaha motorcycle.

I know a guy named Vyacheslav who used to live in the U.S.S.R. before the iron curtain came down. He was thrown in prison because he was a Christian. I lived through some of the cold war between the two great world “superpowers.” I never thought I’d live to see the iron curtain come down. Then old Ronnie R. says “Mr. Gorbachav, tear down this wall.” And boom! It’s down.

When you’re young it’s easy to believe you’re gonna be the Big Kahuna. You’re gonna live forever. You’re not gonna make the mistakes the others have made. Well, guess what? The cold war superpowers have lost their super. The Big 3 are big losers. You’re not as invincible as you think. And we’re all going down.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I’m Really Mad At Your Mother

Sue’s mom, Peggy, died of cancer at age 59. Peggy smoked. She started when she was 17 and developed a two-pack-a-day habit. Filter less – Chesterfields, I think. I have no doubt the cigarettes killed Peggy. I also have no doubt that Peggy’s smoking is a contributing cause of Sue’s cancer.

After Sue and I got married we used to visit her parents. We stayed with them at their house in San Diego. Peggy smoked inside and it always made Sue and me both sick. We’d have headaches and allergies for days after a visit there.

The literature on multiple myeloma that Doc gave us says its cause isn’t yet known, but there are certain groups of people more at risk of getting this type of cancer: Farmers and field workers who’ve been exposed to chemicals; People who’ve been exposed to excessive amounts of radiation; and smokers.

What effect would years of suffering her mother’s toxic second hand smoke have had on Sue as a growing child and young adult? I can’t prove it, but I know this cancer has its roots in Peggy’s smoke. And I’m really mad at her.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How Will This Affect The Kids?

Sue’s mom, Peggy, died at age 59. That was about 21 years ago. I remember that because our 21 year old daughter had just been born and Sue was glad that her mom got to see the baby and hold her before she died.

Sue missed her mom over these years, and sometimes lamented that she couldn’t just call up her mother and talk. They didn’t get a chance to compare notes on child-rearing, remember the good old days, or gossip about the home-town kids. There were no three or four generation gatherings of the Fay/Freeman/Harper/Nickodemos/?? women.

Our two girls are 21 and 22. They’ve got upcoming college graduations, weddings, and kids of their own to raise (well, not yet on that last one). How will this affect them? Time will tell.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What I’ll Do After You’re Gone

We got away to our special place at Huntinton Lake for a day. While we’re sitting at the lake eating lunch and fishing Sue says if she dies I have to spread her ashes at Inspiration Point. Also, if she’s real sick she wants me to just “conk” her ‘cause she doesn’t want to stretch it out or suffer. Right. I’ll conk you so I can spend the rest of my life in prison with no one to visit me.

I want my ashes spread at Huntington Lake too, but I can’t get a fix on exactly where. Somewhere where I can watch the Osprey fish. Doesn’t seem so pressing for me to decide just yet.

She’s really tired and sore so we decide to head home. On the way home she dozes and I mentally spend her life insurance and run through the possible scenarios of what I’ll do, where I’ll go, how I’ll live, etc. after she’s gone. Too soon to think about getting a new wife, I guess.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Bomb

The appointment with the Oncologist is set for 1 p.m. Doc calls Sue and says we can come in early if we want, because she wants to be sure we have enough time for our meeting. This really sounds ominous.

When she tells us Sue has “multiple myeloma” it doesn’t mean too much. We’ve heard the term but really don’t know what that means. Doc says it’s cancer. She gives a brief explanation and gives us a bunch of literature to read. Says Sue will start chemotherapy on Monday.

Yeah we’re a little numb with shock. But not really. We expected this. Well, I know I did. I’d googled possible causes of severe anemia and cross googled possible causes of lower back pain. Several types of cancer were among the likely suspects. Ovarian cancer. Pancreatic cancer. Leukemia. Lymphoma. Didn’t come across multiple myeloma but hey, cancer’s cancer.

Doc’s evasive when I ask for a range of possible outcomes. Heavy on the positive outcomes. We decide to roll with her optimism. We devour the literature while we wait for the baseline blood draw and heart test. Cancer. The Big C. Son of a gun.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What’s Wrong With Me?

Mark calls me at work. “Have you talked to your wife yet?” No, what’s up? “You’d better call her and talk to her right away. She called Cindy and she’s upset.” I thank Mark for calling and give Sue a call. Doc says she has “severe anemia” and needs to have a couple of pints of blood today. Doc wants to do a bone marrow biopsy.

This doesn’t sound good. Her body’s not making blood and they want to test her bone marrow. Isn’t that what they do when you have leukemia? Dang! Don’t tell me all this time she’s had cancer and I’ve been feeling sorry for myself because she’s not up to snuff. She’s sick. Really sick. I’m an idiot.

Friday, May 15, 2009

What’s Wrong With You?

For a number of months now my wife has been less than a good stepford wife. A good book once in a while is a good thing. Lately, it seems, all she wants to do is read. She’s letting a lot of stuff go. She’s not keeping up with keeping up. She’s not taking care of herself. She seems to be sick a lot. She’s become less interested in our “relationship” (male perspective). It seems like there’s something wrong, but I can’t really put a finger on it. Neither can she.

More recently she’s had a lot of pain in her back. Now she’s hardly getting any exercise at all. The pain seems to be sapping her energy even more. We’ve got hot water bottles leaking in the bed. She’s seeing a massage therapist and a chiropractor. It seems to help a little. It’s all very annoying and we both hope she figures out what’s wrong with her.

For sure it seems like there’s something wrong. She’ll ask her doctor at her upcoming annual physical.