Here are just a few odds and ends from a busy week of treatments. Sorry, for its length, folks.

__________

damian

Since Patti and I have started this posting about my battle with pancreatic cancer, loads of friends and family will tell us to “kill that snotty little bastard damian” or some other such directive. I still don’t like giving the respect that a capital D would do.

After waging this war with the snotty little bastard, I would like to weigh in with a bit of a”postscript.”

I believe damian has already lost this war. The snotty little bastard is a loser. Here’s why. This whole cancer fight is really a fight between good and evil. And damian sure doesn’t represent good. What damian really wants me to do is lose faith in God, or blame God for this cancer, or be angry with God because I have this cancer. In short, lose faith in a loving God.

That is just not going to happen.

I believe in a loving God that is happiest when we are happy, worry-free, care-free and feel His presence all around us. Here’s an example from 1 John 5:14:

“This is the confidence that we have in our relationship with God: If we ask for anything in agreement with His will, He listens to us. If we know that He listens to whatever we ask, we know that we have received what we asked from Him.”

__________

A favorite song — Asleep the Snow Came Flying

I don’t think it is new to say that the way we live our lives can be called the music of our life. Look at any good song and life is woven through its melodies, lyrics and notes.

While I certainly agree with this, I also believe that music stirs the soul, moves the body and affixes itself to our atoms and corpuscles. It becomes us.

imagesTo set the stage for one of my favorite songs, let me take you to Beartown Lakes Park, near Chagrin Falls, Ohio. It’s a very small park. Blink twice and you miss it.  First you go down one gravel road, then you turn down a dirt road and when you get to the end of the dirt road, you are there. It has a beautiful tranquil lake, loads of surrounding trees of a wandering variety but loads of maples, a dike at one end that serves as a great sliding surface for the little buggers in late Spring and Winter. It has a meandering hiking trail that goes around the lake and a good portion of one side of the lake is covered by a wooden walkway. In short, it’s one of my favorite places on earth. When Patti and I lived there, we’d go to Beartown at least once every season.

One year, Patti and I were kidless — they were away with friends — and we headed to Beartown. It had been snowing outside, sky was completely covered and the snow was the slow falling kind that seems to put a muffled blanket on any sound. When we got there, we noticed that all the trees were somewhat bare, but starting to get a gentle covering of slow, lightly touching snow. The ground was white. No breeze to speak of. We could see each other’s breath.  By this time in Winter, the lake was frozen. Our footprints were the only ones showing on the trail and the only sound anyone could hear was the crunch of booted feet on the snow path.

We had a great visit to the lake that afternoon, sat on a bench to watch the quiet snow come to rest on the ground. While we were talking, I couldn’t help but throw in a verse or two of Robert Frost’s Stopping By the Woods On a Snowy Evening. I just love that poem. Because of that day, whenever I hear this following song from Tim Story, I am overwhelmed with the beautiful sentimentality that Patti and I experienced when we went for that walk along Beartown Lakes. While some may say it’s a bit dark, I don’t think so. I think it accurately reflects the quiet stillness of an overcast day when the snow falls in abundance, but steadily quiet and, perhaps, timid.

So, here’s Asleep, the Snow Came Flying

__________

First chemo treatment and stent placement

Last Wednesday, we spent about an hour with Sharon at Texas Oncology. She basically gave us a pep talk about what chemo can do, what it can’t do, what some side effects could be and the impact on quality of life. She was very direct and very good. There was no question we had that she did not have an answer. After learning all we needed to know about Gemzar, we moved to the infusion center, where I was to get my first round, along with many others who were already in their infusion process.

When I walked into the room, the first thing that came to mind was riding alone on a train through Europe in 1972, reading Alexandr Solzhenitsyn‘s Cancer Ward. The novel tells the story of a small group of cancer patients in Uzbekistan in 1955, in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union. It explores the moral responsibility — symbolized by the patients’ malignant tumors — of those implicated in the suffering of their fellow citizens during Stalin’s Great Purge, when millions were killed, sent to labor camps, or exiled.

So, as you can imagine, the description of the wards was dire, grim, ghastly. That was not what I saw at Texas Oncology. There were small units of five chairs in a semi-circle, attended by one nurse each. Everyone appeared comfortable. Either a friend or family member sat next to many patients. It was mostly very quiet except for the nurses behind a counter that served as a gathering spot for all the nurses tending to patients. It was so good to see people who did not feel uncomfortable or in any pain. One man lay next to me and he pulled his skull-cap down over his eyes and slept through his treatment. A woman next to him was noticeably shivering. Her lips were quivering and her body soon followed suit. But very quickly, attendants brought her a warmed blanket and she quickly stopped the quiver and seemed to fall asleep quickly.

Patti and I waited and soon the nurse administered the lead wire to the port in my right upper chest. Most nurses who deal with my port “gingerly” administer the leads, or flush the port, but gingerly indeed. Thomas, my nurse who has been doing this work since 1985, just rammed the needle into the port. It so shocked me that I forgot it hurt for a moment.

When the chemo was complete an hour later, we simply got up and left. No drama, but as I left the infusion room, I turned around to notice other patients coming in, others leaving. Cancer is just as much a part of life as laughing or weeping. We will see if any side effects manifest themselves. We pray not.

The stent — On Friday, I was admitted to Seton hospital to have a stent placed in my bile duct to eliminate my yellow cast and to allow for easier discharge of waste naturally through the bile duct. An hour on the table and an hour in recovery and I was on my way home. They were successful, but they had to be “aggressive.” That’s short for: “It’s gonna hurt like hell afterwards.” Which it did.

First couple of days, no sleep because I could not find a comfortable position since my chest hurt. But it’s Monday and I’m starting to feel better and the chest pain has, for the most part, subsided.

“When the world says, ‘Give up’, Hope whispers, ‘Try it one more time.'” — Anonymous

Today, the family and I learned how quickly despair can turn to hope.

We were a bit despondent when we left the hospital on Sunday. It appeared that all the doctors at the hospital wanted us to meet with an oncologist to decide next steps. While they did try to give us choices, there weren’t many. Frankly, we thought the docs at the hospital just wanted to put the burden on the oncologist to tell us that we’ve pretty much done what there is to do.

So, we met Dr. Jerry at 8:45 am at Texas Oncology. If you are not from Austin, Texas, Texas Oncology is a very large organization that focuses specifically on oncology and nothing else. They have a whole slough of offices here. My friend, Bryan, who is recovering very well from throat cancer, recommended Dr. Jerry, so we made an appointment with him before last week’s hospital visit, just in case.

So, when we arrived, we had mixed feelings. We were expecting bad news.

After I filled out papers that seemed to want to know everything about me except my underwear size, we were shepherded into an office.

Dr. Jerry came in and introduced himself. From that moment on, we were just overwhelmed. Never have I seen such an optimistic, caring, confident, energetic individual with such enthusiasm and love for the work he does.

He was completely up to date on all the scans and MRI. He knew the outcomes from the hospital stay. When we had questions about chemo, or any of the next steps we may have, he let us know that hope was on the horizon and there were numerous options, BUT there were some priorities.

While we were in the room, he got on the phone to make appointments with his most trusted gastrointerologist. He was confident that the ERCP procedure that was not successful Sunday, was a temporary setback. “We can turn that around, I know,” he said.

Gemcitabine

Gemcitabine

We had discussions about chemo and the effects of gemcitabine on quality of life. He was straightforward and gave us straight answers to all our questions. Plus, from some recent research we had heard that there was a report coming out in January that claims that gemcitabine combined with another drug, Abraxane, had been experiencing some remarkable results in treatment of pancreatic cancer. He knew all about that and shared information with us about that combination.

So, after our visit with Dr. Jerry, we had appointments to meet the new gastro guy and to start the next step on removing the bile obstruction. We also had an appointment to learn more about gemcitabine and begin chemo treatment.

So, yes, chemo is on the near horizon, but we are strengthened by our faith and we know that we have not run out of hope.

“Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.” Lin Yutang