A Foe Returned

For three years I whined that I had nothing to say since I was declared in remission. I had no wise words, I was exhausted and I did not want to comment in the political arena because everyone is sick of everyone else’s opinions on politics (is that a derivative of “Polite?”).

Now, I have something to talk about again, and my first word on the subject is “Rats!” 

An old foe has returned, dear friends. Breast cancer. It had the nerve to just explode in the last four months or so, invading bones and liver. This is called breast cancer, stage 4. 

Bob cried at this news, I held his hand and pondered (still to cry later) and Dr. Birhiray hugged us both.

The most excellent news is, that with the cancer, an old friend, provider, healer, warrior and listener (one who sees and hears) has come to once again see me into this battle: my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Not that he was ever away from me, but this is a different kind of “with.” A permeating assurance of his majestic, supernatural presence, moment by moment.

Oh, how good it is to trust in Him, to know I am safe, no matter what, in His capable hands. So My next words on the subject are, “How are you going to use this cancer this time, Lord? Be it done unto me according to thy will (As Mary would say).”

Here’s how it all played out, because I know you are interested, even though some of you are simply hard put to know what to say and ask in the face of this news. I want you all to know I am not afraid. I know your first question is: what is the prognosis?  The good doctor’s words on that subject were, “Time will tell.” Not much to go on, but at the same time, cheeringly open-ended.

When bloodwork was done in April, all was well. Then, in June the bloodwork showed a presence of cancer. A big presence. Of course, having been in this position before, I know what I was in for: poking, prodding, x-rays, scans and all sorts of other things having to do with needles and big machines.

A PET scan showed cancer in the hips, breastbone, spine and liver. Yes, said Dr. B., this explosion does happen. It was likely some cells that escaped the original tumor and hid for a while. 

So, now the fun has begun. Chemotherapy on Thursdays, two weeks on, two weeks off. This is an off week, and the initial shock has worn off, so here I sit at the keyboard. There will be no hairs falling on the keyboard this time, I am told. Ah, a perk!

Back to the chemo room, back to blood counts and air hugs. Back to food tasting like tin. Back to that inexplicable closeness to God. 

I will be back in two weeks or so, and I am already hearing of prayers from the far-off continents and churches. Oh, how I do love my marvelous comrades — You all!

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But Who is Changing the Royal Diapers?

ImageJust when I thought the world was moving on from the royal-birth stage in the life coverage of the Prince of Cambridge, along comes this in the Sunday newspaper: An add for a “commemorative baby doll” of the handsome lad, all dolled up in a frilly dress hawked as the christening gown inspired by one commissioned by Queen Victoria. Get yours now, for the low, low price of $149.99.

Here was my first response:  “Aaacccck! Holy hand-painted porcelain!” I mean, really. We are already upon the christening, which hasn’t even happened. Then, I suppose, the first royal rash, the first royal nail-clipping, on and on. Did he inherit the royal ears? Will he be a sportsman or an artist?

The coverage is overwhelming, forcing the lovely Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (his parents, for those of you on another planet) into has-been status. After all, says commentator Bernie Goldberg, CBS has given two times the space to the royal baby in one week than it gave to the IRS scandal in two months.

But wait a minute. As I look at that statistic, I am thinking that I would rather hear a happy story about a nice couple having a cute baby than another political upheaval. I know, I know, we fought a revolution so we wouldn’t have to be royal-watchers. Still, it is my belief that average people like me are just longing for something wholesome and good, like a husband and wife bearing the good news of a child.

Tell me to take off my rose-colored glasses, but I can’t do anything about our pathetic government with its IRS scandal and all — believe me, I’ve tried — or about the life of Prince George Alexander Louis. So if I have to hear about one or the other, I’ll take the baby news. At least I can smile about something over which I’m helpless.

But one huge question remains to be answered: Who is actually changing the royal diapers?

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Refitted, Remodeled and Redone

 

I can’t imagine that I have not typed on this page in months!  Who knew I’d be talking to so many of you in person that I wouldn’t need to send out a blog? Now, that right there is just an excuse, so I might as well admit it. The truth is, I have been lazy about blogging.

Good Dr. “B” mildly scolds me about this every time I go in for a checkup.  “Have you written your blog?” he asks. “No,” I answer, trying to pretend it is absolutely my RIGHT to dodge the keyboard. He smiles. “Don’t worry. You will go back to it.”

And so, here I am again, homebound, wearing a complicated get-up from the hospital — complete with tubes, gauze and velcro — and wallowing around with pain pills. I guess it took this to get me to sit still long enough to write.

To bring everyone up to date, it’s been a week since I had reconstructive surgery, and I’m soaring on my way to recovery!  They did this awful thing called a “Latissimus” back-flap to rebuild me. I am going to spare you the details except to say there are stitches, stitches everywhere.

In comparison, this has not been as painful as the mastectomy, which could be due to a number of factors: (1) They gave me stronger pain medicine this time; (2) I’m in a different frame of mind, having been remodeled instead of demolished or (3) This type of surgery just doesn’t hurt as bad.

There will be a few more little adjustments, and I’ll be back in the swing of summertime and ignoring my urge to blog.  No, I am going to be more faithful about it.

All in all, I am sitting back, once more, praising God for the many, many ways in which He has blessed me. I feel so selfish!  Who am I to be a taker of all these blessings and not a giver? How can I bless Him? Do I dare think I can somehow bless the creator of the universe? I mean, seriously. Where was I when He flung the stars, the moon and the sun into the immense blackness? What could He possibly need from me?  Nothing.  But still, I read time and again in the Bible that we can indeed bless Him, by giving glory to Him.  Well, I am here to tell everyone that without Him, I would have been a whiny, self-centered, bitter and fearful ninny. But true to God’s promises, He strengthened me when I was weak, turned my mourning into dancing and set my stumbling feet upon high and sturdy places.

I need to ask you all a favor. What would you like to hear from me, if anything? What would make you go to MyPitch to see what I’ve gone off on this time?  This will help me to be more faithful and to not fear getting bawled out by dear fans who are only trying to encourage me.

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The Greatest Spectacle in Box 21

Greatest Spectacle in Racing!

Nobody but me would have to train for the trek to the Indy 500. In fact, my sister and I walked a whole mile the day before the race. I got special arch supports to put into my shoes. I trotted up and down stairs at home in preparation for our climb up into Penthouse B. It’s called penthouse because it’s high above the paddock seats, not because it’s a fancy suite or anything. There are about four flights of stairs.

The big day came and we gathered at my other sister’s home for a little breakfast. We herded into the car and she jokingly said, “Everybody got your tickets?”

Leslie: “Uh-oh.”

Sister: You’re kidding.

Leslie: I am not kidding.

Brother-in-law:  Oh NO. You have them in your pack, right, Les?

Leslie: No.

Actually, everyone was really nice about driving all the way to Zionsville to get my ticket. I blamed chemo brain, but no one was buying that. I was glad Bob had gone out to the track early to get situated with the other photogs in turn 3. Maybe he would never find out that I’d done the unthinkable.

We lucked out when my brother-in-law found a parking spot free and close to the north end of the track, except that Penthouse B is at the south end. So in addition to the 3/4 mile to the track, we had about a mile of trackside walking, as well. I made it.

You may be wondering why I did all of that training. It’s because I can’t seem to stay off the operating table. Someone found a “small mass” in an MRI of my head, and the thing was behind my nose. Of COURSE it had to be biopsied. Every time I get a mosquito bite from here on out, it will be biopsied. I asked the good Doctor K if he could fix my deviated septum while he was in there. He said OK.

The lump was nothing but a cyst with a long name. I call it Throgmorton because I can’t remember the real name. And my septum is straightened out, except it’s still harder to breathe. And my feet are still numb. So I had to train.

Once up in Penthouse B, in Box 21, we settled in and got out our racing news sheets and pulled names for our $35 pool. Jim Nabors sang. Others sang. Florence “I’ve stayed at the dance too long” Henderson sang. The troops unfurled a giant flag. The Stealth Bomber streamed overhead, low and stealthy as a whisper. We all missed Tom Carnegie. Mary Hulman George gave the famous “Gentlemen Start Your Engines” command, the crowd roared and we were, so to speak, off to the races.

My first regrettable comment was, “Is AJ driving the pace car the whole time?”

After most of the race was over and Dario Franchitti was in the lead, I was still rooting for my guy in the polls, Scott Dixon. I turned to one of the sisters and asked, “Has Dario FranCHitti” ever won?  There was a silence as everyone exchanged glances.

“Um, Mom,” my daughter said, “It’s ‘FranKeeti,’ not FranCHeeti.”

“He won last year, Les,” someone in the box offered.

And then from behind: “Yeah. His picture is on your ticket. You know, the one you left at home?” Laughter and guffawing all around. Well, aren’t I the race fan extraordinaire with the Penthouse and the Box and all the rest?

We all made it back to the car in fine shape and, after the usual waiting around in stalled traffic, we trundled toward home.

And so, even though I made a spectacle of myself there in Box 21, I consider myself back to normal. Now you’ll recall I did not want to go back to my OLD normal. But now I’d like my OLD brain back so that I can at least remember who won the last race, remember tickets to important events and remember that our old hero AJ Foyt is an old guy now, who can’t drive the pace car beyond the parade laps.

I’m doing OK with my morning times in prayer. There have been so many happy days that I rejoice and thank God for my journey of this past year, and that I’m still here. I’ve been busy celebrating life with some of my friends who also have come through chemotherapy and radiation and surgery.

Until we meet again on the blog page, God bless you all.

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Back to “Normal?”

Bob and Les celebrate with unabashed gluttony.

Folks, my days of being nuked ended on Friday. This called for major praises sent heavenward to our mighty God who heals not only the body but the soul. It also called for celebration!

I heard the magical words from the great and wonderful Dr. Schmidt as he patted my chia-pet hair, “You’re doing perfect. Just perfect.”  And from the valets who parked my car in good humor every day: “God bless you!” And from my ever-efficient Radiator, Yegor: “Goodbye.” (Hey, he was smiling!)

With Yegor beneath "The Behemoth", my scary radiation machine.

I told Yegor and fellow radiology therapist Eric that my life would be over now that I would not be coming in every day to lie down under that enormous, looming, menacing  machine which I call The Behemoth.  They told me I’d get over it.

Bob Collins and my sisters took me out for ice cream. They gave me flowers. We hugged and nearly bawled. A big Italian dinner at Mama Corolla’s  snapped me out of my mindset of being sick. I was eating a BIG dinner, with no after-effects. This is a good step back to normalcy, though I don’t want to make a habit of it. I have lost 21 pounds since that day in June, up at my aunt and uncle’s lake house, when I asked myself, “Is THAT a lump?”

Thumbs up with Cindy, Margie and their beautiful bouquet.

While all of you are cheering me on with pats on the back, notes, calls, happy smiles and sometimes tearful eyes, I stand in the midst of it all feeling like Cary Grant in the movie “North by Northwest,” poised at a crossroads and wondering which way to go.

 

How do I go back to being normal after a year of being poisoned, sliced, diced and nuked, while schizophrenically loving each and every person involved in this torture? And now I don’t see it as torture, since all of it saved my life. How normal is that?

How will normal look now that I have experienced the sweet luxury of sitting with the Lord in the mornings, meditating, listening and praying, without hurrying through because I have to rush on to some task or another? This has been my normal, and now I have to buck up and get back into the fray.

Like I said, the Lord not only healed my body, but my soul. He cured me from thinking He could never use me for anything because I was convinced that I was the greatest sinner known to civilization. He cured me from thinking He was always disappointed in me. He cured me from thinking difficult things were a punishment. How on earth am I going to ever go back to that kind of “normal?” I don’t want to. I like depending on Him. I like spending more time with Him. I love seeing Him work in people’s lives, perhaps because of something He said through my lips or through my fingers on the keyboard.

I don’t want to stop depending on Him when everything is “OK.”  The cancer came and went, but our God reigns. And I will never be the same again.

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Tiptoeing into Radiation

Some movies have Terminators. At least one state had a Governator. As for me, I have my own personal Radiators. Their names are Eric and Yegor. I go to them every weekday at 2:45 so that they can position a huge machine over me and dash out of the room while radiation beams into my chest, looking to zap any maverick cancer cells that might have escaped chemotherapy and surgery.

A typical reaction to one of my jokes.

Eric and Yegor were all business at first — as well they should have been — but after eight treatments (for me, radiation; for them, my bad jokes) I think I have worn them down to smiling at me. I’ll admit that I take some getting used to. But now I know about their families and they know about mine. I know that Eric had another career before this, and likes being a Radiator better than he liked being a teacher. Good news for me, eh?  I know that Yegor is Ukrainian. They are fine young men, and I know I am in capable hands.

Still, I pray every day as I go to the basement at the hospital for treatments that the Lord would guide their hands and that He would see fit to bring words from my mouth that are pleasing to the hearers. Sometimes I babble and people look at me as though I had two heads. This is why I take getting used to.

I have my little-dot tattoos and no it did not hurt to have Yegor put them on, though I flinched once. Yegor reminded me that childbirth was worse, and I had to agree.

If any of you out there are having chemotherapy and know that radiation is in your future, take heart. It’s a pice of cake. I may have tiptoed into this with a bit of hesitance, but it was all for naught. I’m in and out in a half hour and the major side effect will be fatigue. I think I’m beginning to feel this way in the afternoons, but I’m not sure if it’s just me looking for side effects or if it’s really from the radiation. As I told my friends the other day, “Fatigue is good. No one will expect much from me.”

Since I’m sleeping at night now, I’ve taken to praying more during the daytime and also memorizing some Bible verses. I’m horrible at memorizing but I don’t care. I’m doing it anyway because (a) I want to have God’s word in my heart, just to have it there and (b) you never know when you’ll be in a concentration camp and be grateful that you have those ancient words to speak, to give hope to yourself and others.

Speaking of resting at night, here’s a little bit of a passage I’ve memorized. Picture it: “The eternal God is a resting place and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27.)

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

I have hair!

I’ve been to Florida and back since last we spoke (or wrote, or read…). I survived the Great Ice Storm of 2011 alone, as Mr. Bob went ahead south with some of the kids. I had to stay home a few extra days to have my port taken out. Ah, the last reminder of Chemotherapy is flushed from my poor old body. Now to start radiation. More on that at the end of the post.

So there I was, home alone and waiting for the big ice storm to hit, amid anxious reports from wide-eyed weatherpeople of possible power outages. I decided to take pioneer action to save myself. I went to the woodpile with a hammer and started hammering inch-thick ice that had been there for the past week off the logs. Then I’d lug them into the garage. Hammer, lug. Hammer, lug. As I hammered and lugged, ice from the sky began pelting me on the head. It was getting on toward evening, so I stopped and went inside, candles and flashlights at the ready.

Now, three weeks later, we have 20 logs stacked in the garage, because the power never did go off. I tell you this as a point of perspective as to how well I am doing! Could I have single-handedly hammered and hauled 20 logs a month ago? Heck, I couldn’t even raise my arm above the shoulder.

This time of healing is an amazement to me. Just as I never have felt my age, I had not realized how sick I looked until I looked in a mirror. Bob says we never feel our age because the soul never ages. I think my soul never felt sick when I was sick because cancer can’t touch the soul. God is in charge of my soul, and so I could get up smiling in the mornings. The soul, as you know, is that part of ourselves that is inside, the part we can’t really put our finger on, but which we know is what makes us who we truly are.

As my soul peers through the blue eyes of this physical body, it is amazed and awestruck to see this self of mine, once riddled with deadly cancer and a whole lot of me killed off by chemotherapy, coming back to life day by day. First it was the peach fuzz, which I lovingly called chia-hair, sprouting from my head. Then came the eyebrows and then eyelashes. Have you ever seen eyelashes sprout as black dots in little rows and grow before your very eyes?

Surgery wounds have healed. The neuropathy (numbness and touch-sensitivity in hands and feet) that kept me hobbling around the house has eased up a bit. That tallow pallor that is the cancer trademark has gone, replaced by healthy tones. I have read that my brain cells destroyed by chemo are being reborn, slowly. How can it be?

This reminds me of a verse in the Bible, which declares how God made us: “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.”  That the body can rejuvenate before our very eyes is a testament to our creator, is it not?

The view from our porch. Ah, paradise!

Two days after the ice storm, I flew to south Florida. There, in the sunshine, my hats and scarves came off. I have actual hair beyond fuzz!  Yes, it’s short and yes, my sisters say that now I look exactly like Dad. I counter that I look exactly like Dad with mascara and lipstick.

As for the radiation treatments I rushed home for, well, all they’ve done so far is mark me up with X’s with a Sharpie pen and perform a CAT scan. That was last Monday. The word was, Dr. G. would call me with a plan for my treatment, based on the scan. I fully expect to hear this coming Monday.  Next step is to get more marks and some pinpoint tattoos and then the real deal. Radiation. Thirty-three treatments, five days per week, which puts the length of time at a little over six weeks. Could we get started, already?

The tattoos are poetic justice. We were less than enthusiastic when our boys gleefully got theirs. They are now in hog heaven, hearing about mine.

As always, I thank each of you for your generous prayers and cards. I love the cards. I feel the prayers way down in my soul. They sustain me as I wait and wait. They are what makes me aware that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

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