Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Don't Know What to Say

Yesterday Shannon had a radiation treatment, its purpose being to lessen and hopefully eliminate her blood loss. Today brings with it the typical side effects but her temperature has been normal for two days so that good news offsets the harshness of the radiation. She says she's not in pain, just weak. She always has enough strength for a sweet smile when I need one though. I've burned that look into my mind for the past 31 plus years that we've known each other and carry it with me.

Many times people don't know what to say to folks in a situation like ours. A feeling of inadequacy gnaws at them as they avoid saying anything for fear of saying the wrong thing. That lack of communication then turns to guilt for not talking at all to the sufferers. It's a vicious cycle. If you've ever had this happen to you, allow me to help you out. Say, "I'm sorry," "I'm thinking of you and praying for you," "I love you," "I want you to know how much you mean to me." These are simple, few word statements. After saying the one or ones of your choosing, sit back and listen. Don't probe. Just listen. Let that person lead the conversation. Whether you're talking by phone or in person, you don't have to keep the conversation going for a long time. Just knowing that they are in someone's heart is sufficient for most people dealing with a critical illness.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Questions and Answers

Today finds us waiting to see which of the multiple antibiotics that have been administered will be effective in keeping Shannon's fever under control. After hitting a high of 104 over the weekend, she's back to normal now. I want her to remember that a person's temperature is like a golf score, not a bowling score; the lower the better (as long as it's not below 98.6 anyway). Her blood count has gone down again so it's time for another transfusion. Thank you to everyone who gives blood. She wouldn't be here without you.

We're at the point where the doctors feel they need to make us aware of the possibility of no recovery. I know they've seen hundreds of patients at this stage so perhaps they see signs that we do not. We continue to ask questions. Since we don't have a lot of experience with doctors, I will say that I hope all of them are like the ones who work with us. If we have a question we get an answer. They listen and respond. This is not the time to hold back on the questions and we're thankful to have people caring for us who recognize our need for knowledge.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Time For Appreciation

Today we were told that the surgery we were expecting to have is not necessary at this time. On Tuesday we expect to have the other chest tube removed. We're thankful for every positive step. We're trying to make sure that we don't spend so much time asking that we forget to give thanks.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Another Bend in the Road

It's been such a joy to be home. Tomorrow we make our way back to the hospital for another surgery. We're in that vicious cycle of trying to fight the cancer but being prohibited by other complications that are being caused by the cancer. The apostle Paul wrote, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair." (II Corinthians 4:8). The battle is getting tougher. How anyone can face death without the faith that comes from God's written Word is hard to imagine. The Bible gives us plenty of examples of men and women of faith. It's my privilege to be able to see a living example of faith in Shannon every day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


The definition of "normal" changes often during this type of challenge. Normal, a year ago, meant shopping trips, visits with friends, and lots of church activities. Normal, today, means taking meds, resting, visiting assorted doctors, and rebuilding strength.

It's important to me to have something that feels really "Normal". My online classes have been my "normal" thing to do. It takes me away from the IVs, the strong medicines, and the odd smells that come with this.

I must admit, I'm impatient. I want to be outside, smelling those hyacinths and feeling the fresh air. I want to visit with friends, and attend every church activity possible. These things will come; I must be patient.

In the meantime, redefining normal is a daily process.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Home Again

Last Wednesday, all things were go for leaving the hospital. I had gone to pick up a prescription, our boys were waiting in the hallway outside of Shannon's room and she was inside preparing to dress, sign discharge papers and leave. Suddenly she lost a significant amount of blood and passed out. The nurses revived her but by the next morning she was in surgery again, this time in an effort to stop the incessant bleeding she has been experiencing for so many months. A day or two prior to all of this we thought again that we might be going home but a very dangerous attack came then as well and, thankfully, soon went. When Friday came and they released us, we were watching every step to make sure this time our departure would come to pass. Her many continuous days in the bed weakened her leg muscles but her determination had her quickly adjusting and she is now getting around with the help of a walker. She is eating and resting well and we look forward to being able to once again attack the source of all of this, the cancer.

The Psalmist wrote, "I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made..." (Psalm 139:14). The complexity of the human body has never been so evident to me as it is now. Our bodies are so intricate that, while the vast majority of our muscles, cells, etc. are working properly, one tiny afflicted area can stop us in our tracks. That's not always bad. In this case, had we gotten home on Wednesday and had Shannon lost the blood and passed out at home instead of in the hospital, the results could have been much worse. At the time we were disappointed that we were not going home, but the cause of our disappointment actually turned out to be a blessing. I may sound like my needle is stuck in a groove (that's "record" talk for you younger folks) but you really don't want to get too bound up in a schedule when dealing with cancer. Circumstances can change in an instant.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Up for a bit of air

The past week has been a blur of procedures and fevers and medications. I'm feeling better today, and am happy to be enjoying this lovely day.

I am so blessed, with family and friends, who encourage me to keep fighting. I will!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Little Courtesy

Even though we're in that "hurry up and wait" mode, the last couple of days have been peaceful. Shannon is eating well, breathing well and, aside from the napping that comes along with the pain medication, is in many ways back to her self. I knew things were bad a week or so ago when she said she didn't want any chocolate. Thankfully, she's eaten everything chocolate I've brought to her lately.

From our youth we've known the value of courtesy. Having spent little time in the hospital, I'm nonetheless aware of the challenges and pressures faced by the staff. Some time ago I remember reading something that suggested the hospital staff appreciates "please" and "thank you." It may not be much but we've tried to use those two words as often as possible during our stays. The doctors, nurses and the rest of the crew put in a lot of work. We've struck up conversations with just about all of them. It seems that just a little common courtesy from a patient might make their jobs more enjoyable.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Peace That Passes All Understanding

So far, so good on today's surgery. The pneumonia skirmish and now the lung skirmish still occupy us and are keeping us from fighting the bigger battle of cancer. Thankfully we're beating back these enemies so it is with high hopes that we prepare to take on the major adversary within the next week to ten days.

With each challenge we've faced we have seen Bible verses come to life. Verses such as Philippians 4:6-7 (I'm going to make you get your Bible and look those up) have always been meaningful and powerful because the Bible is God's living Word (Hebrews 4:12), but here, in a surgery pre-op room, I actually see the peace that passes all understanding in Shannon's eyes. This is not a tumultuous time for either of us. Instead, it's an opportunity for us to enjoy God's blessings.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Riding the Roller Coaster

Roller coasters have never been a favorite of mine. I prefer to keep my stomach in one location. Dealing with cancer is a roller coaster ride of epic proportions. One day you're riding high when things seem to be going well. On another day you've been hurtled down literally into "the valley of the shadow of death," wondering if this is the last time you'll get to hold your spouse and see her sweet face this side of eternity. On still another day everything seems normal, like it was in the pre-cancer days. For me, an important factor in dealing with this is to maintain an even keel. Don't panic in the valleys. Don't become unrealistic at the peaks. Stay steady and enjoy the time you have with your loved one, caressing every moment you have together as if it were the last. (Actually, why should we wait for a long-term illness to make us appreciate life's precious moments?)

The last two days have been good ones as we wait for the pneumonia to go away while anticipating surgical repair of Shannon's lungs. With the completion of these two steps, we can move on to the next treatment in hopes that this will be the one that sends the cancer into remission.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Up to Date

To finish the timeline of our experience, I don't recall ever looking forward to a new year more than I looked forward to 2010. 2009 had had some other challenges beside the cancer so the prospect of a fresh start was pleasant. It was another of those "things to look forward to" that we tried to keep in front of us to help us keep going.

For the first six weeks of 2010 we went through the weekly treatment regimen, only briefly interrupted by a visit to the emergency room, not really knowing if any progress was being made. A scan on February 22 told us that, in fact, no progress had been made and the cancer was worsening. In addition, the scan revealed the lungs were again collapsing. A few hours after the scan we were again in the hospital and stayed for five days, only to come back again four days later with recurring issues related to the lungs as well as pneumonia that had developed.

So here we are in our third floor condo and now you are up to date. Several words come to mind in summarizing the past nine and a half months, among which are: unique, challenging, frightening, faith-building. Through it all though I can say that I can't think of a time when we lost hope. We've never really faced any long-term challenges in our lives. This is a first. All those years of studying God's inspired Word (the Bible) and committing it to heart and mind have, I'm convinced, built a wall around us that is protecting us from despair and doubt.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Off Schedule

I'll admit to being "schedule happy." I like everything to be organized, in its proper place and just so. But cancer has its own schedule. For instance, while I had planned for the last few days to update the history of our encounter with this illness, one of the offshoots of the cancer decided to attack Shannon again and has brought her back to the hospital. Ideally, we were going to post here daily, each one of us playing off the other in our writing. She just hasn't had the strength and is barely able to talk, much less write.

Dealing with cancer requires flexibility. You go where you need to go and change what you need to change in order to accommodate the unexpected. Basically the whole experience is filled with unexpected twists and turns. While learning from those who have gone through this is helpful, no two experiences are exactly alike. Glean what you can from what others have to say, but don't be frustrated if things don't happen on the same time table as it did for them.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Finishing Up 2009

After our August/mid-September hospital ordeal, we fell into sort of a routine back at home. Granted, it was a routine different than we had ever experienced in our lives but it was a routine nonetheless. There were still rough days but the news that the chemotherapy was making a difference helped us deal with those. As the holidays approached we looked forward to the family being together. Even when December brought the news that this treatment had stopped working and that we would have to move on to another after the first of the year, we were still excited about the holidays. They gave us something to look forward to. We have found that to be important. Whether these things are large (the family coming together, going on a short trip) or small (bringing home a movie to watch together, cooking a favorite meal), the anticipation of positive events has helped us deal with the down times.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Next Chapter

The phrase, "the dog days of summer" took on a new meaning for us in August 2009. On Saturday, August 8 Shannon was at home and having difficulty breathing. I was going to drive her to the emergency room but when she could barely walk as far as the living room we decided to call the ambulance. Later we would discover that the cancer had spread to her lungs and had caused a hole in one of them that had it working at only 10% of its capacity. While in surgery a cancer-induced hole developed in the other lung. Thus began a string of 25 days in the hospital, interrupted by only a few days off back at home.

It was during this time that I experienced what was without a doubt the lowest point of my life. One day, struggling for a breath, Shannon said to me, "Take care of the kids." I knew her medications might be affecting her mood, but still, it felt like she was giving up. All I remember saying is, "I refuse to believe you're going to die from this. We will not lose." She had demonstrated such a strong will to that point; now she needed to borrow some of my determination. It was only fair that I lend it. After all, she had already given me so much of hers.