Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More Nutraceuticals for Cancer

In my search for a good supplement for cancer patients I revisited some of the sources I found early in our cancer journey. One of these was a product by BioImmune Inc called Enhanced Immune Response. Dr. Robert Moore, a naturopathic physician from Indiana first suggested the product for Jim in 2003. The powder which is taken dissolved in juice contained every vitamin, mineral and herb touted for immune system support that I had come across in my research. And it contained adequate amounts. The driving force behind the company was Arnold Takemoto a researcher devoted to the production of nutraceuticals in cancer treatment. BioImmune was not a multi-level marketing or pyramid level business. The products were only available through medical professionals. Everything checked out and I was convinced that the products were of high quality.

Jim took the supplement for two years along with a buffered Vit C powder also manufactured by the company. Was it effective? Well, Jim remained healthy during the year of aggressive radiation and chemotherapy and he had no evidence of recurring disease during that time. Would that have happened without the supplement? Maybe. Maybe not.

Fast forward to 2010. As I was researching, another nutraceutical company, GNLD, for f.a.i.t.H., it occurred to me that I should probably speak again with Dr. Moore and offer the group information about the supplement Jim had taken. Dr. Moore was, as he has always been, very helpful. He suggested that I contact Arthur Takemoto directly to tell him about Jim’s recovery and about the f.a.i.t.H. group.

I called on a Friday. On Saturday, Dr. Takemoto’s wife Colleen called me back and talked with me for more than an hour about their philosophy, their company, and their “mission”—to help people in their cancer battles. I was pleasantly surprised to hear her say that they are Christians, eager to share Arthur’s gifts with the world.

I’m thinking: Wow! God must have sent me here—all part of his plan to help us find a team of Christians to cure everyone in our group. She told me all about the science behind their newest products (nanotechnology) which, when combined with Immune Enhanced Response make an aggressive alternative program which has been successful in treating late stage cancers. I mentioned to her incidentally that I was somewhat concerned by Jim’s recent physical which showed an elevated blood calcium level.

On Monday, out of the blue, I got a call from Dr. Takemoto himself. No niceties. No small talk. Right to the dagger-like point.

“If your husband’s calcium blood level is elevated, I am 95% certain that the cancer has returned to the bone.”

“Couldn’t it be the result of prior treatment or an indication of a heart irregularity?” I asked, hoping he was wrong.

“Did you not hear what I just said?” he replied in a patronizing tone.

He then went on ad nauseum about his many accomplishments and accolades while I struggled to digest the long distance diagnosis he had just delivered.

Basically he was saying that the only hope was for Jim to start immediately on his program including intravenous vitamin C which could not be administered in TN. The program would cost 4,500 dollars a month (not covered by insurance). When I expressed shock at the cost, he allowed that if there were some others in my group who used his products he could give me a finder’s fee-- greatly reducing our outlay.

Finally, I said, “Look. I hate to be rude but I am really upset and I need to get off the phone to call my oncologist to set up a pet scan. What you’re saying may be true but I need to see exactly what his blood calcium level is and get further tests set up.

I’m sure those of you who have never been in the passenger seat on a cancer journey are wondering why the red lights weren’t flashing in my brain. How a medically savvy adult could, with no reservation, buy into this doomsday diagnosis from a man whom she had never met, can only be understood by those who live under cancer’s shadow.

When I finally was able to extricate myself from his clutches (only after he told me to get my affairs in order), I called the internist’s office leaving an urgent message to get back to me with the results of Jim’s blood work. She returned my call an hour later giving me enough time to call everyone in the family raving like a lunatic that Jim’s cancer was back and I was packing my bags for Houston. No, I’m not exaggerating. I wish I were.

When the nurse did call back she reported that Jim had misunderstood. It is his cardiac calcium score that is elevated NOT his blood calcium level. He goes for a Thallium stress test tomorrow morning. Calcium build up in the arteries is not good but probably not fatal. Preferable, at least in my somewhat twisted mind, to cancer.

I sent Dr. Takemoto an e-mail explaining that we had the wrong information and wouldn’t need his full treatment at this time. Not wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I was very polite, and requested more information for a man I know who wants to use only alternative treatment.

I have not heard another word from the good doctor. Jim and I will not be using the BioImmune products.

Another magic bullet disintegrates.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nutritional Supplements for Cancer

For the past few months, the topic of conversation at the f.a.i.t.H. meetings has been nutrition, supplements, and complementary treatments. Although everyone in the group is receiving or has received traditional therapies for cancer, all of us are interested in any natural or complementary methods to boost the immune system to enable the body to fight cancer cells and recover from the harsh drugs we have taken.

Jim and I as group facilitators so not endorse any specific type of treatment—traditional, complementary or alternative, but we encourage a free and open exchange of information among the members. I remind you that these are nothing more than opinions—even when they are supported by research and personal experience.

Over the last eight years I have researched a variety of touted “cures” for cancer and concluded that there are no miracle cures. I decided early on that changing the host (the human body) might prevent the cancer from growing again—by changing the environment to make it less supportive of the proliferation of cancer cells. If this were a panacea, people who have been practicing these healthy habits for most of their lives would not get cancer. But they do.

Let’s talk about GNLD which was recommended by one of our members who has seen improvemnent in her husband while taking the supplements. The Golden Neo-life Diamite Company has been around since 1958. They have operated as network marketing company for 52 years. I am somewhat leery of pyramid marketing businesses although I admit this might be a personal bias. I am all for capitalism and don’t object to entrepreneurs making money commensurate with the effort they put forth, but I always wonder whether they are promoting the product for personal gain or because of its benefits to the consumer. Network marketing companies must inflate the price of their products so that the sellers on each level make a profit. Generally companies that function in this way will branch out from their original niche to get into more profitable areas, e.g., cleaning supplies, weight loss products, etc.

That being said, GNLD has not had complaints filed against them and they have an excellent BBB rating.They also have a Scientific Advisory Board with eminent experts in health and medicine. One of the most renowned members was Arthur Furst, a cancer researcher sometimes called the founder of modern chemotherapy. He joined the board in 1978 because he believed that “proper nutrition can protect people from cancer.”

The company has several lines of products divided into nutritionals, herbals, weight loss, skin and personal care, and home care. The Pro Vitality line is has 3 main supplements: Tre-en-en-- developed in 1958 (“provides whole grain lipids & steroids, optimizes cell membrane function”); Carotinoid Complex (whole food supplement providing carotenoids from fruits and vegetables); Omega-III Salmon Oil Plus- ultra hi-potency fish oil.

These seem to be hi quality supplements providing what they claim to provide in terms of ingredients but maybe not benefits. They are expensive though granted less expensive than buying the organic foods that supply the nutrients they include. And surely they are easier to consume and require no preparation. They also provide nutrition to a patient who might not have the appetite to consume the foods.
If you want supplements beyond those naturally found in foods, you must jump into their one of their other lines—herbal or nutritional. In other words the Pro Vitality line provides nutrition but is lacking in other natural compounds recommended for fighting cancer.

I will be covering another nutraceutical company, BioImmune, when I conclude my research. My advice, in the meantime, is to prayerfully consider any treatment plan and be wary of anyone who promises a magic bullet. Exercise, increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, avoid processed foods, and lift each other up in prayer to the Great Physician.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why Suffering?

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

The diagnosis of a terminal or life threatening disease—like cancer—causes one to seek answers to life’s important questions. In order to accept the possibility of Jim’s death, I needed to believe there was a purpose to our suffering. My ensuing spiritual quest is chronicled in Cancer Journey: A Caregiver’s View from the Passenger Seat. When we spoke this week in Alabama and Georgia, I was reminded how hungry the listeners were for this message of hope and healing. I came home with renewed enthusiasm for sharing our story with the battle-weary warriors on this life journey.

No one is spared suffering in a cancer battle; often it is not until we suffer that the questions arise. From the depths of our despair come the questions: Is God good? Is God omnipotent? Can a good God allow suffering? Either He is good but not all powerful; or He is all powerful, but not good. Can He be both? If He loves us why doesn’t He fix us? As Philip Yancey writes, “Where is God when it hurts?” The answers we come up with will draw us closer to God or drive us further from Him.

On this earth everyone suffers. Suffering is part of the human condition, whether it is in the form of physical pain or mental anguish. Is the suffering senseless?

I like the Roman Catholic idea of “redemptive suffering” first introduced to me by a friend, Cheryl Himmelright. Suffering brings us closer to our Lord Jesus Christ if we view it as an opportunity to share in his suffering for us on the cross.

In “The Redemptive Suffering of St. John,” Father Michael Buckley explains it like this:

“-The God of the Universe is totally Good, Wise, Merciful, Just. His being excludes any shadow of evil.
- Sorrow, suffering and pain did not form part of the original divine plan for mankind. The Old Testament presupposed and described an idyllic era when all was harmonious and peaceful.
- The root cause of evil in the world is: Satan, and mankind, in so far as it comes under the influence of the "Adversary."
- Though God is not the cause of evil and suffering, He can use it, so to speak, as a means of correction and redemption. This, like the other propositions, has to be very carefully understood and interpreted.”

Before you can accept God’s grace and take comfort in His promises, you must decide whether He is trustworthy. To do this, immerse yourself in His Word. See what the Bible has to say about suffering beginning with the Old Testament accounts of Job, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Call to mind God’s faithfulness in dealing with you through other difficult times. He demonstrates His faithfulness in the small things so that we can trust Him in the bigger ones.

Hopefully you will, as I did, conclude that God is good, that He is a merciful God of Sorrows who sees our suffering but knows that it is fleeting, that He would not leave us in our misery without the hope of being reunited with our loved ones for eternity. Believing these things doesn’t make suffering easier to understand but it does make it easier to bear.

From Father John Lombardi, another Catholic scholar:

“Redemptive suffering is any trial or tribulation (physical or mental) we offer up and UNITE to Jesus- as a "gift" to Him to express our love thru a costly way, in exchange for some other good. Notice the key elements: we consciously choose embrace suffering; it is precious (a "gift") because it is painful (not fun or "easy"); it brings us close(r) to Jesus in an intimate and intense way; and the suffering may "spiritually repair" my own soul or others-and thereby help in the work of redemption (Christ's allowing me to help Him save souls).”

“There are two kinds of suffering-redemptive suffering and wasted suffering…Which one will you chose?”

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lung Cancer Facts

To kick off National Lung Cancer Awareness Month I am listing facts about the disease that changed our lives. Share this with everyone you know to boost awareness, encourage contributions, and save lives.

1. Lung cancer is the # 1 cancer killer.
2. Lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer among women having surpassed breast cancer in 1987.
3. Lung cancer kills more people than colon, prostate, and breast cancers combined.
4. Yet, lung cancer research is least funded of all of the major cancers.
5. Lung cancer kills twice as many women as breast cancer but receives 1/10 the amount of funding.
6. 6 of 10 diagnosed with lung cancer will die within the first year.
7. 7.5 of 10 will die within two years.
8. 20% of those diagosed have never smoked.
9. 60% are former smokers many of whom stopped more than twenty years before.
10. Only 20% are currrent smokers.
11. One reason for the lack of support for LC is the lingering stigma of the disease. No one deserves lung cancer. Share this information with everyone you know.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why a Support Group?

My introduction to support groups came years ago when co-dependency was the buzz word among lay people and psychologists. I had reached the point where I couldn’t answer the simple question, “How are you today?” without first consulting with my three children. If all was well with them, all was well with me. I was never happier than my least happy child. Seldom were all three problem free, which meant I was seldom happy. Having decided that I fit the criteria for codependency (don’t all mothers?), I finally sought help.

The psychologist thought I would benefit from joining a group of other “co-dependents.” Being a rather private person and new to psychotherapy, I wasn’t eager to share my neuroses with a group of strangers, but since it was more economical than private sessions, I agreed. I was not comfortable at the meetings. I feared judgment; I didn’t really want them to know that I was a sick puppy. I became even more reticent when I realized that compared to the others, my problems were trivial. If I was a sick puppy, they were dying dogs. After sticking it out for several months, I left the group. The only therapeutic value came in the realization that I wasn’t as bad off as I thought.

Despite that negative experience, I am a zealous believer in support groups for cancer patients and caregivers. When Jim was diagnosed, I was desperate to find a group of people who understood what we were going through. I needed to know that survival was possible. I needed someone to help me sort through the maze of a cancer diagnosis. When we couldn’t find a group that met our needs, we started our own—f.a.i.t.H.--facing an illness through Him.

The members of f.a.i.t.H. are bound together by shared experience and a mutual foe—a killer disease. In this group, we do more than regurgitate our pent up hostilities and personality disorders with the sole purpose of catharsis. We do express our emotions without fear of judgment, but something magical happens when our burdens are shared with those who truly care about us and want to help. We are a proactive group intent on helping each other. In my first support group, the members were focused on their personal problems. In this group, the members focus on each other’s problems. We en-courage each other with the same encouragement we have received from God.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” ( 2 Corinthians 1: 3-5).

If you are reluctant to join a support group, I ask you to consider some of the benefits:

1. The exchange of information.

A. How to control side-effects

B. Dietary concerns & recipes

C. Available protocols

D. Insurance information

E. Books

F. Oncologists

G. Treatment centers

H. Available trials

2. Reassurance that your feelings are normal.

3. Encouragement that others have survived cancer with prognoses as grim as your own.

4. Hope

5. Prayer support

6. Fellowship

7. Laughter

A good support group provides answers to the questions that most of us ask when confronting serious illness: How can I survive this? What happens if I don’t?

Most importantly, we come away from meetings knowing our concerns will be lifted up to the Ultimate Physician who can actually empower us for the battle we face. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18: 20).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

Remission Depression

Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” Nehemiah 8:10

For the past week, I have had the blues, been down in the dumps, out of sorts, or not myself. You’ll notice that I carefully avoid the word “depressed,” choosing instead any euphemism for the condition that plagued my father for most of his life. Knowing the genetic component of clinical depression, I’ve always had the unfounded fear that I, too, will be sucked into that bottomless pit.

The deaths of several f.a.i.t.H. members, visitations, and funerals this summer have contributed to my malaise. But apart from that very legitimate reason, I have little to be depressed about. Nicole, the psychologist daughter, suggested that because Jim is doing so well I have resorted to worrying about inconsequential happenings which I ignored when I had the overwhelming worry of his cancer.

Sad but true. I need something to worry about. When I was occupied with cancer, everything else shrank in importance. I couldn’t worry about whether a grandchild got the teacher he wanted or the part in the play that she deserved. My focus was on only one thing—Jim’s recovery. I had no energy left for other worries. Cancer has a way of realigning priorities and sifting the significant from the trivial.

Holly McRae, a member of f.a.i.t.H, whose six-year-old daughter Kate is battling a brain tumor expresses this so well:

Yesterday was one of the best days in quite some time. Surprisingly, as I watched Kate go into her classroom for her first day of kindergarten, I wasn't overwhelmed with tears. Simply excitement and gratitude. Gratefulness that she got the chance to experience a first day of kindergarten, meeting new friends and navigating through an elementary school. Yes, her first day was far different than I could have ever imagined years ago. It was different, and yet still so good.

Kate is currently being evaluated by the school district to see what therapies she would or would not qualify for. The irony never misses me. The one I thought be bored with school, as it came so easy for her is now being tested to see what she needs to help her get through it. As it is still a hard pill to swallow some days, I am reminded of what truly matters, those things that no one or no disease can steal. Only those things that will last, those things that have eternal significance. In a moment the things we spend our lives painstakingly chasing can be gone. Gone with one diagnosis, gone in a moment. I hope I won't always fear cancer, but I pray that it will always remind me of what lasts. That it will have given me perspective not many find. And a confidence of what truly matters.”

This realigning of priorities has happened more than once in my lifetime. In September of 2001, tennis consumed my waking hours. I played several times a week and when I didn’t play I talked about it—how to win matches, why I lost matches, reliving points, and planning rematches. When I won a match, I was elated; when I lost I was defeated. I played tennis, as I play most games, as if it was a matter of life and death—fully engaged, committed, and involved. I approached each match using the techniques of Inner Tennis talking to myself to control the nerves that if unbridled would interfere with my ability to execute.

Then came 9/11. My priorities shifted. The outcome of a tennis match took its appropriate place in the bigger scheme of world events. I was no longer hampered by nerves before a game. What did it really matter when the world was falling apart?

In November, 2002, Jim was diagnosed with lung cancer, and my world crumbled as surely as the World Trade Center had the year before.

When in the throes of a cancer battle, or any crisis for that matter, I think I will never again need an attitude adjustment—the yanking up by the chain that occurs when real problems come into our lives. In the midst of a trial, I think that henceforth I will give thanks for every “normal day,” never again needing the thrill of a big win, an article published in a prestigious periodical, a marketing effort come to fruition, a pat on the back, or any other of the ego-boosters that make my day. Just waking up, feeling well with no looming problems on the horizon is good enough. After living in cancer’s shadow one would think a sunny day reason enough for rejoicing.

But I’m human. And human beings are quick to forget the blessings we receive and just as quick to forget the Source from whom those blessings flow.

My prayer, like Holly’s, is that cancer will continue to remind me of what is truly important, that “it will have given me perspective not many find. And a confidence in what truly matters.”

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:6,7).

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Book Review: What Every Christian Should Know About the Jewish People

An Interview with Sheryl Young

1. As a Jewish person, how did you come to know Jesus as your Messiah?

My family lived in an all-Christian neighborhood because of my father’s job. I really believed all the stories in the Torah (Jewish version of Old Testament), but I also wanted to know more about the Jesus my friends spoke of.

When we moved away from there, I forgot my desire for many years. Then, my grandparents died, and our family fell away from practicing Judaism. After I got married, my husband (whose mother was a Christian) just up and went to church one day. About two weeks later, he came home and said he’d accepted Jesus. So I went along to church, to see what it was about.

All those feelings came rushing back. But I still thought, I’m a Jewish girl, how can I accept Jesus? Then, the church had a revival and a Jewish believer in Jesus came to give her testimony and sing Messianic Jewish songs! That night, I gave my life to Christ.

2. What was the driving force behind your writing this book for Christians – and not a book for Jewish people about Christ?

Since finding the Lord in 1987, so many Christians have asked me questions about the Jewish religion, Jesus’ Jewish upbringing, and why Jewish people find it hard to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Also, there have been recent times that churches have attempted to “evangelize the Jews” without learning about them first. I felt a strong calling to help Christians have more tools and knowledge for reaching out to the Jewish world community in friendship and love.

3. What are a few questions you answer in the book?
The book is subtitled “Improving the Church’s Relationship with God’s Original Chosen Nation,” so there are many topics included to give Christians a well-rounded way to relate to Jewish people. But here are the questions I’m asked most often:

-Is Judaism a religion, a nationality or a culture?
-Why did Hitler target Jewish people and those who helped them in the Holocaust?
-How can I, as a Christian, defend Israel’s existence?
-Do Jewish people really need to be “converted,” and must they leave all their Jewishness behind?

About the Author
Sheryl’s been freelance writing professionally since 1997. Her work has been seen in the Tampa Tribune, St. Pete Times and Florida Baptist Witness Newspapers; Light & Life, Today’s Christian Woman and Better Nutrition Magazines; “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” Vista Sunday School Curriculum, and most currently as Staff Writer for The Underground Online Christian Magazine.

How to get the Book:

 Find details about How to Order “What Every Christian Should Know about the Jewish People” at her Faith-Inspired Blog, It is available (online only) at, and most other bookselling websites, or Wine Press/Pleasant Word Publishing

Monday, August 9, 2010

School Days

As my grandchildren prepare for a new school year, I remember my own school days and the excitement surrounding that first day.

In 1952 those of us starting first grade were truly novices. We didn’t have the advantage of pre-school, Mothers-day-out, or even kindergarten. If we knew our alphabet (and most of us did), it was because our parents taught us – not because they wanted us to get a head start, but because parents were expected to teach us the basics. There were no readiness tests or entrance exams because there were no private schools in our working class town. No one considered holding a child back until he was “ready.” If you turned six before 1953, you started first grade in September of 1952.

No one sent home a list of school supplies. We showed up on the first day with the requisite pencil box, milk money tied in the corner of a hanky, and a sack lunch. There was no dress code. The girls wore dresses; boys wore shorts or pants with shirts tucked in. Everyone wore anklets and some sort of practical oxford. We were neat and clean, faces shining, clothes ironed, and hair combed in honor of the special occasion – the first day of school.

Parents didn’t have anxiety about which teacher we would be assigned. The school only had two first grade teachers and our parents didn’t think they had a choice. My best friend and I were assigned to Miss Korb, a spinster who seemed ancient to me, but was probably no more than forty-five. She was of German descent; I think she may have studied under Hitler. She was mean as a snake and put up with absolutely no nonsense. One day I got a bloody nose in her class but sat at my wooden desk and bled all over my saddle shoes rather than incur her wrath. But Miss Korb got the job done. We all learned to read about Dick, Jane, and Spot.

My grandchildren pose for their “first day” pictures – taken with a digital camera rather than a Brownie. They are weighed down with their monogrammed back-packs filled with 150 dollars’ worth of required supplies. Tennis shoes have replaced the saddle oxfords; designer duds have replaced the pinafores. One thing remains unchanged – the excitement of the children as they enter the hallowed halls of learning.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cancer and Anger

People dealing with chronic illnesses (and cancer, thankfully, has become a chronic illness for many lucky ones) are often expected to put on a happy face to greet a world oblivious to their problems. Is it possible to maintain a civil attitude and pleasant outlook when you are living with daily pain?

It’s tough to play the “glad game” when your joints are aching, your neuropathy is in full force, or your head is throbbing with another migraine. If, in fact, Pollyanna were to suggest that you look on the bright side, you might want to land a punch in her ever-pleasant puss or mow her down with your motorized walker.

Most of us don’t fall short in putting on a happy face, rather we overdo it and put on a happy face too often. Everyone I know (my husband included) who is living with pain and fatigue, doesn’t complain enough!

Anger is a normal reaction to a situation in which we feel a lack of control. The problem arises when anger is expressed inappropriately or when it is not expressed at all. Anger suppressed becomes depression. “Doctors are just beginning to understand how dangerous internalized anger is. Repressing it, internalizing it, turning it back on ourselves, swallowing it, storing it within us, inhibiting it, burying it, ''eating it,'' "stuffing it," can have catastrophic results for our health.”

How then can we get rid of our pent-up anger and not alienate everyone around us? Here are a few suggestions—not shoulds-- which only add more guilt to the load you’re carrying.

1.Don’t keep your happy face on all day. It’s exhausting. Holding anger in, repressing feelings drains us of energy that we need to cope with everyday activities. Find a safe place to express your feelings without fear of judgment—a support group or a friend you can phone.

2.Set aside a reasonable amount of time each day to vent, complain, cry, or shout from the rooftop. When the time is over, pick yourself up by the bootstraps and move on.

3.If you’re having an especially bad day, indulge yourself without guilt. Stay in bed. Read a book. Sleep.

4.Remember that you have a right to your feelings and a need to express them. Don’t suffer in silence, but be prepared for some negative reactions if your family is used to your “stiff upper lip.”

5.Laugh. Bill Cosby said, “Through humor you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.” 2 Whether laughter actually plays a role in healing has not been scientifically determined, but few deny its beneficial contribution to well-being. Norman Cousins, a writer, editor and humanitarian was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful and progressive disease of the connective tissue. “Nothing is less funny than being flat on your back with all the bones in your spine and joints hurting,” he wrote. Convinced of the benefits of laughter, he developed a program of humor therapy—surrounding himself with positive people and a diet of funny movies. “It worked,” he said, “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.”

6.Try Laughter Yoga. This doesn’t mean that you try yoga and the class laughs. Laughter Yoga is a variation of yoga introduced by a physician in India that is now practiced in fifty-three countries. Laughter gives the participants a sense of control over their disease. If your community doesn’t offer this program, try Pilates or regular yoga. Both are stress-relieving and body strengthening.

7.Take control of your thoughts. There are many things beyond your control—your mind is not one of them. In Philippians 4:8 Paul tells us, “Whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is lively, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” If this weren’t possible, God wouldn’t expect us do to it. But He made us with the ability to control our thoughts and direct our minds even when we can’t control our bodies. As irritating as Pollyanna might have been, she was onto something.

Once you have given vent your feelings, indulged in some laughter, and focused on the positive, you might find it easier to meet the unrealistic expectations of friends and relatives. If my suggestions don’t work, I recommend knocking Pollyanna to her knobby knees. It may not be an appropriate expression of anger but I guarantee it will be satisfying.

Monday, July 19, 2010

An Oasis on the Cancer Journey

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).

Jim and I are at a place I never expected to be—an oasis in the midst of a long and arduous cancer journey. To quote Jim, “I never thought I would hear the words, ‘cancer free’ in my lifetime."

For the first time in eight years, the giant who has been living in our attic shows no signs of awakening. I’m not sure he’s dead, but he seems to be in a deep coma—hopefully fatal. Of course, we have daily reminders of the damage he has done. Neuropathy, osteo-necrosis, daily injections of Lovenox, Melatonin and Metformin pills—still a small price to pay for extermination of the beast.

While we are enjoying the respite, I have not forgotten what it is like to live in the giant’s presence. Updates from the McRaes and others, remind me how difficult it is to watch, wait, and wonder whether the cancer is gone, or still at work beneath the surface, creating a maelstrom of destruction. The sheer normalcy of days between scans is bittersweet, because we don’t know how many normal days are left.

Is it ever over for those of us who have learned that cancer is a sneaky foe, striking where and when it pleases? Those who have learned that our prayers aren’t always answered the way we would like? We who have observed firsthand how unfair cancer can be? We have seen suffering up close and personal and aren’t eager to sign up for another go-round.

One of the benefits of facing the death of a loved one is learning to appreciate each day for its previously overlooked blessings. And yet, when the specter of death hangs over us, when fear of recurrence surrounds us, the blessings are difficult to see. No matter how great the resolve to live in the moment, I have yet to find someone who can keep the resolution. Fear creeps in, robbing us of what joy we might have.

My advice to those in the throes of a cancer battle: Keep focused on the positive. Denial is sometimes a necessary and useful coping mechanism. Follow Paul’s advice to the Philippians. In the first part of Chapter 4, Paul tells us how to achieve “the peace that passes understanding.” We are to be thankful for all things and take our requests to God. Verse 8, perhaps less quoted, elaborates on how to achieve this peace that is beyond human comprehension—peace in the face of overwhelming fear, like a cancer recurrence.

We must come to God with grateful hearts, lay our requests before him, AND keep our minds on that which is “excellent and praiseworthy.” When Satan pummels us with fearful thoughts and plants seeds of doubt and fear in our minds, we can counter attack by focusing on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.”
When I was overcome with fear about upcoming tests, I asked myself, “What is true? What do I know?”

I don’t know that the cancer is back; I don’t know that the cancer will kill Jim; I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

But I do know: God wants the best for me. He has always proved faithful. He is a mighty God, more powerful than any disease. Nothing can separate me from His love.

Remember that our tomorrows have already passed through God’s hands. He waits there for us ready to carry us when we cannot walk. “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.”

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Scanxiety Revisited

I have lost count of the times we have made this trip to Houston over the past eight years. Thirty, maybe? I'm not complaining. in fact, I'm grateful that Jim is alive and able to get here. We have hit every season and most holidays. While it is not a "home away from home," we have established a comfortable routine some of which is enjoyable.

Today we braved the heat and walked to Rice Village for a late lunch and dessert at Ruggles. We topped the afternoon off with 90 minute foray in the second hand book store. The eight books we bought served as hand weights for the trip back to the hotel. If I were trapped alone in a n elevator (one of my fears)I could survive if I had just come from the bookstore. I could probably even endure solitary confinement in enemy territory (another fear) if my captors threw in a book every day or so. I'd prefer something other than political propaganda, but if that's all they offer, I hope it's well written.

I've already finished one of the books, Very Nice Ways to Say very Bad Things: An Unusual Book of Euphemisms. The thesaurus for every writer who has struggled with the right words for a delicate subject. Funny, but I doubt I'll use any of the bawdy alternatives in my upcoming articles.

Also bought: Game Change (an inside look at the 2008 presidential campaigns), Every last One by Anna Quindlen, Somewhere Inside by Laura and Lisa Ling, Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson, and a few books on writing. I hope they are engaging enough to distract me from the real purpose of the trip.

Those of you who read my book will understand when I say that I am holding at Code Yellow.I'd like to think that I've made progress in handling the pre-scan anxiety. More likely I'm in denial--which is exactly where I'd like to stay. Thank you very much. I'm quite comfortable here with my head in the sand. My rational mind is telling me that the cancer has not had time to outsmart the last round of drugs,so we're safe for a while.

I hope the anxiety level will hold through Tuesday when we get results. Unfortunately fear is like grief. We never know when it will overtake us. I just have to keep my mind on what I do know: God is in control and God is good.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ten things Not to Say to a Caregiver

1. "God never gives you more than you can handle."
If you say this to a caregiver, you are implying she/he should be able to cope with whatever comes his way. God frequently gives us more than we can handle so that we learn to depend on Him.

2. "My dad (mom,friend, uncle) died from this kind of cancer."
Not what the loved one of a cancer patient wants to hear. Don't even mention death to someone in the midst of cancer battle.

3. "Did he smoke?"
Why do you need to know? Will it make you feel better if the patient got his "just desserts." No one deserves lung cancer--or any other kind. Maybe you're hoping to find a cause that exempts you from contracting the disease. Give up. No one is exempt.

4. "How long did they give him?" or "What's the prognosis?

Again, none of your business. Besides no one knows the answer.

5. "You should try alternative medicine. Chemo is a killer."
Trust me. Better minds than yours are developing treatment strategies. Pumpkin seeds might have helped your yeast infection, but cancer requires big guns.

6. "You should go to ________ for treatment."
Don't use the word "should" with a caregiver. If you have personal, positive experience with a reputable physician or treatment center you might pass on names.

7. "God will heal you--if you have enough faith."
Say nothing to add to the already heavy burden of the caregiver. This philosophy implies that the outcome of the cancer is directly proportional to the faith of the patient or his loved ones. Bull feathers!

8. "Everything will be all right."
Are you omniscient? Do you have ESP? A crystal ball? Then don't make predictions. Early in the cancer journey, the only "all right" I could have accepted was complete--and fast--healing.

9. "I know just how you feel."
I doubt it.

10."You just have to have faith."
Where might I get some?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Living on the Edge--Part 2

Life after middle age can be an exciting adventure.
1. Explore your God-given passions. Pour yourself into life with abandon. Sarah Young in one of her devotionals says, “Out on a limb with me [Jesus] is the safest place to be.” Step out on that limb if He is leading you there.
2. Dare to be uncomfortable. Start small. Brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand opens new pathways in the brain—so I’ve read. Sit in a different spot in church. You won’t die. Ask someone you’d like to know better to lunch. Open yourself to criticism.
3. Try something new. Join a book club. Join the choir. Audition for a play. Put yourself out there. Expand your territory. No one ever died from embarrassment.
4. Explore a hobby. Life is full of so many possibilities. A sport? Scrapbooking? Antiquing? Blogging? Hate sports? Buy a WII.

Don’t let life pass you by while you sit on the sidelines paralyzed by fear of failure.
Take a risk. Buy green bananas.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Living on the Edge

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp -- or what's a heaven for?" Robert Browning.

I am not a particularly adventurous person. I have never wanted to travel to exotic places, eat unfamiliar foods, climb glaciers, or jump out of airplanes. I am not a thrill seeker. I don’t skate on thin ice, ride on bald tires, or swim in the ocean at sunset. I don’t invite catastrophe. Although I respond well in a crisis, I wouldn’t go out of my way to create one.

My idea of living on the edge is eating raw cookie dough (I knew the appeal before Ben and Jerry), riding in the parking lot without a seat belt, or taking cough medicine beyond its expiration date. And once I belonged to a glue sniffing club.

Let me explain that last one. As an only child I had a variety of rather strange pastimes one of which was putting together model airplanes and boats. I had a best friend who was equally imaginative and definitely more adventurous than I. We had no idea in 1956 of the dangers of glue vapors. Sniffing anything--except maybe Vicks Vapor Rub—was a completely foreign idea. We just knew that we liked the smell of model airplane glue. So we formed a club. (We had exclusive clubs for everything in those days.). On rainy afternoons when we were tired of comic books, we would go into her grandfather’s radio room and squeeze small puddles of the stuff onto paper and inhale the fumes. Neither of us suffered any brain damage—well, sometimes I wonder about her.

If we had been warned about the dangers of glue sniffing, I assure you I wouldn’t have sniffed. I’m rule governed—a natural born referee, playing by the rules and expecting everyone else to do the same. My daughter cringes when we line up for a sale at Tuesday Morning, knowing that if someone dares to cut in line, I will glare at them, daring them to make eye contact, so that I can direct them politely, but firmly, to the end of the line.

My mother always said “Let a word to the wise be sufficient.” And I pretty much heeded those words, not wanting to learn anything the hard way. My only rebellion consisted of keeping library books beyond their due date, swimming in the gravel pits when my mother strictly forbade it (I never dove just jumped), and parking on lover’s lane with my boy friend. I figured I could handle the danger in the car, and was willing to risk the dangers outside the car.

I do sound boring, but before you mark me off your list of people you would like to know better, I’d like to say that though I am prudent, I am courageous when called to be. Courage is not lack of fear but acting in spite of fear. Think of all that you failed to accomplish because you were afraid. Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

I like to think of myself as a calculated risk taker, willing to step out in faith and risk ridicule, failure, or disappointment to accomplish a worthwhile goal. This behavior gets more difficult as we grow older and more set in our ways. Too often we get in ruts that inhibit our growth and self actualization.

When Jim was diagnosed with cancer we evaluated our lives and decided what was important. What things did we love to do? What did we hate doing? Could we eliminate some of those things that caused us stress and unhappiness to make time for new endeavors? When faced with a terminal illness, you realize how short life is--too short to let fear prevent you from pursuing your dreams.

In my next blog entry, I will tell you how to get out of your rut and make positive changes in your life.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lucky Duckies

Memphis is famous for its barbecue, Elvis Presley, Beale Street, and—duck hunting. Each May, pork connoisseurs travel from far and wide for the barbecue contest; in February the Elvis fans gather from all corners of the globe to pay homage to the king of rock and roll; and in Autumn scores of men and boys in trucks and camouflage descend on the city for the activity that is as much a part of Southern heritage as football and grits.

As a transplanted Yankee, I’ve embraced most things Southern, but no one has been able to convince me that shooting helpless animals is a sport. I’ve heard all of the arguments in favor of the gruesome pastime, but I remain unconvinced.

As a bird lover, the only way I’ve been able to help is to provide a little respite for the ducks passing by en route to their natural habitats. I stop short of hanging out a shingle, but birds know that our yard—though not a five-star operation—provides fine dining, a heated pool, and protection from gun-toting rednecks.

Each year we have a pair of mallards who drop in for an extended stay. I don’t know whether they are the same birds or a different couple that has come upon the recommendation of the first. Apparently word travels fast in the duck community. Because ducks are monogamous (at least for a season), I like to think the pair books the honeymoon suite each year for their anniversary.

I am a bird watcher so having these guests in my backyard provides a close-up look. I love to watch their little webbed feet paddling under the water propelling them all around the pool like the wind-up toy my children used in the bathtub. In a murky pond, when you can’t see the source of their propulsion, it looks as if they are gliding on ice.

On the pool deck I scatter grain and bread crumbs to keep them fat and sassy. But my husband, Jim, the resident curmudgeon and pool-man, complains about the mess they leave. Unfortunately, they can’t read the sign meant for our human guests: “I don’t swim in your potty. Don’t potty in my pool.”

Recently we witnessed a blessed event. On a summer Sunday afternoon, we came home from church to find the momma Mallard and her brood of seven, happily paddling in the pool. In spring and early summer, to avoid human predators, ducks sometimes nest well away from the water. Probably the female laid her eggs nearby and brought the baby quackers to our “cement pond” for their first swimming lesson. The daddy duck was nowhere to be seen. Like many human fathers, the male takes no responsibility in caring for the offspring. He was probably out with his pals on the golf course.

When we approached, the momma duck swam vigorously to the opposite side, followed dutifully by her young family. But when she jumped out of the pool, the little ones flapped their wings to no avail. They were trapped. Getting into the pool was easy but getting out presented an unanticipated problem. Unlike the ponds she usually frequented, this one had no means of escape. The eight-inch jump from the water’s edge to the concrete was easy for Momma but impossible for her babies.

We had to come to the rescue. The ducks couldn’t stay there until they grew big enough to make the jump. “Grab a kickboard,” I called to my husband, but the kickboard had to be held by human hands and the wary mother wasn’t coming close. “How about a rubber raft?” Same problem. Jim went into the garage and brought out a large piece of plywood making a handicapped ramp for the brood. We chased the mother toward the board, but at the last minute she veered to the right or left and hopped out the side. Obviously, she didn’t understand our escape plan.

Finally, amidst much squawking and trauma, Jim chased the mother duck out of the pool and swept the babies up into the leaf basket. The distraught mother must have thought the ducklings were to be the main course for our Sunday dinner. They tumbled out onto the ground and waddled away, under the wooden fence, back to their nearby nest.

Maybe next year, I should direct the Mallards toward the historic Peabody Hotel where the accommodations far surpass ours. At the Peabody, ducks receive the treatment they deserve. They have their own duck master who literally rolls out the red carpet for the feathered celebrities as they waddle from the elevator to the marble fountain where they swim all day in climate-controlled comfort. The lucky ducks enjoy the same amenities as the hotel patrons—excepting alcoholic beverages. At night they retire to their sleeping quarters on the roof with a view of the city. They rest safe and secure because the only shots being taken are by the scores of photo-snapping tourists.

Friday, April 16, 2010

When cancer returns

When I was finishing "Cancer Journey: A Caregiver's View from the Passenger Seat," we just found out that Jim's lung cancer had metastasized for the first time. In one of my preliminary drafts, I wrote that a recurrence is not as difficult as the initial diagnosis. Lynne Eib, one of my endorsers, suggested that I might want to qualify that statement, because many people find a recurrence or metastasis much harder to handle.

This weekend at a conference in Chicago, I was talking with a man whose prostate cancer had come back, eleven years after surgery and treatment. He was devastated. For five years he believed he was cured, only to learn the cancer had returned.

What a blow it must be to have cancer reappear--like a soap opera character who, after a thorough search, is given up for dead, eulogized, and laid to rest, only to show up years later, resurrected, causing havoc in Pine Valley.

In 2008, when Jim had his first recurrence, I had been looking over my shoulder for five years waiting for cancer to come back. Therefore, as I said in my book, the recurrence was not so shocking. Even in 2009, when the cancer metastasized to the bone, I was not caught completely off guard.

But, I must admit, if it rears its ugly head again, I will be crushed.

The solution? Do I protect myself by refusing to accept the miraculous remission that we are enjoying? Must I continue to look over my shoulder to keep from being blindsided if the cancer returns?

I would rather not. I have made a conscious decision to adopt the philosophy of the cockeyed optimist, claiming and believing that Jim has been healed--even if that means making myself more vulnerable if I'm wrong.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Good Old Days

When we were sorting out the contents of my mother’s home, my eight- year- old grandson pointed to a small mahogany chair with a needlepoint seat cover and asked, “Gigi, why does that chair have a desk on the side instead of the front?” I realized that the “telephone chair” was as foreign to him as the black dial telephone it was designed to accompany.

“Time was,” I explained, “when we were bound to the six foot area near the wall where the phone jack was placed. We couldn’t multi task while on the phone. No cooking, driving, or throwing in a load of clothes.”
The phone chair was most often located in the living room where you were tethered to the telephone chair for as long as the conversation transpired. For teenagers, this could be a lengthy time, particularly if you had a boy friend who attended a different school.

The phone chair had a desk on one side with a shelf for phone books. We didn’t have numbers on speed dial, so after we dialed them daily over a period of years, they became forever imbedded in that computer prototype--the human brain. To this day, I can still repeat the seven digit numbers of my best friends. (We didn’t have area codes.) We never called our next door neighbors. Why call when we could open the door, walk out on the front or back porch and speak directly to them?

The little desk held not only the phone but the phone dialer, a plastic stick with a ball at the end that fit neatly into the dialing holes on the phone. These were a necessity for women who wanted to preserve their manicures (home manicures. I never knew anyone who had their nails done at a salon.) Usually there was a message holder—the fifties version of the answering machine—in our case a small wooden block, a wooden rod, and a clothespin attached, to hold important messages. Mine was a craft project from Girl Scouts, painted white with a pink plastic flower glued to the base—one of my more useful creations.

In the early fifties, we had a party phone. Unfortunately, we didn’t make the invitations to the party. Most often the other members on the line were eavesdroppers and phone hogs (according to my parents) who didn’t take the hint when you picked up the phone several times during their seemingly interminable conversations.

Every night like clockwork, we had calls from certain individuals—Aunt Ann, Uncle Bill, my mom’s best friend. They were taken right in the living room where everyone could hear at least one end of the conversation, unless it was drowned out by Bonanza or Dragnet. There was no such thing as a private call until I had a phone in my bedroom, which wasn’t until I was well into my teens. Even then you ran the risk of someone picking up the extension.

We didn’t have call waiting or beeps to indicate another incoming call. If a love struck teenager monopolized the family phone, the caller would get a busy signal—very annoying and apt to be reported to the adults in the family who, when the line was finally clear, were greeted with, “Who have you been talking to? I’ve been trying to call for an hour.”
If the phone rang during dinner, Dad would jump up from the table and run into the living room. There were no telemarketers. No one called during dinner unless it was an emergency because all of our friends and family knew that we ate precisely at five p.m., every night of the world and dinner was not to be interrupted.

A long distance call was a rarity, even in families where money wasn’t a major concern. When I drove back and forth to college in the early sixties, we had a system to let my parents know I had arrived safely—without incurring the extravagance of a long distance charge. The routine went like this:
I dialed zero.
Operator: “Can I help you?”
Me: “Yes I’d like to place a collect call to Madison IL.”
“What # are you calling?”
“Your name?”
“Cyndi Zahm”
Ring Ring. Dad would pick up.
Operator: “You have a collect call from a Cindy Zahm. Will you accept the charges?”
Dad: “No, I’m just a workman. The family is out right now. (He didn’t want the operator to know he was a tightwad intent on beating the system.)

There is no longer a need for telephone chairs. Seldom do we sit to take a phone call. We can reach out and touch someone from the tub, the table, the traffic, and, alas, the toilet. Unfortunately, it works two ways. There is no escape.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

BEAT fatigue

Fatigue might be the most common complaint among those with a serious illness. The fatigue resulting from chemotherapy and radiation is not the kind that can be alleviated by a good night's sleep. I wish I had a magic potion or pill that would pep you up and allow you to enjoy daily activities. While waiting for that invention you might try my suggestions to BEAT fatigue.
1. Breathe-- Deep cleansing breaths are invigorating. If you are able, try yoga or pilates--even if you are unable to do all of the movements you can do the deep breathing.
2. Eat some protein. The carbohydrates you crave will give you a temporary high
followed by a crash, but protein gives you sustained energy
3. Ask for help. When you don’t have the energy to get out with people, pick up the phone, call a friend, and ask for prayer.
4. Take Ten. Sit on your porch in the sunshine for ten minutes or better yet walk around your house, cove, or down the block. This provides a double whammy—fresh air and Vitamin D.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Share your Burden

I must admit that I am having difficulty blogging about cancer. It seems to me that I have said everything there is to say and that you all must be as sick of hearing about cancer as I am of talking about it.
Yet I realize that with the book sales and media publicity, we are reaching a different audience--people who are newly diagnosed and looking to us for encouragement and direction. They are in the middle of a raging sea and I want to help them stay afloat.
Therefore,I will try to blog more regularly even if the subject isn't cancer related.

Today's advice for the those starting out on the journey--join a support group. If your loved one is too ill to attend, go alone. Sharing your burden will lighten your load. I love Matthew 11:28,30. "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." But sometimes it helps to talk to "someone with skin" as my three-year-old grandson once said. Paradoxically, the times when you feel least like reaching out are the times you most need to.

I know there aren't many faith based support groups [] but most major cancer centers offer support of some kind. Contact me and I might be able to make some suggestions.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Friday, March 5, 2010

Cancer's Shadow Lifted

In 2002, two small words changed our lives. "It's cancer." In 2010, two small words changed our lives again. "cancer free"

I didn't realize how accustomed I had become to living under cancer's shadow, until the cloud lifted and the light returned. For seven years, we didn't plan anything without considering Jim's health status. We couldn't make short range plans because we weren't sure how he might feel. We couldn't make long range plans because we weren't sure he'd be alive.

Now that he is no longer in treatment we aren't bound to the chemo schedule or tethered to the infusion pump. We are back among the living!

And yet, some things remain the same. Thankfully. The cancer school room taught me that none of us--however healthy we might be--can know what the future holds. Life is short, health is fleeting, and this morning's sunrise might be our last.

Cancer may not be finished with us, but for today, it is gone. And that's enough. THIS is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Divine Appointment

We were in the shuttle on the way to our appointment with the oncologist. Because we had to wait ten minutes for the hotel shuttle to arrive we were barely going to make it on time. Another couple flagged down the car as we were about to pull away.
“Oh-oh,” I thought. “We are never going to make it.”
“Do you mind getting in the far back?” the driver asked, as Jim got out to offer the lady the middle seat. The man climbed in back with Jim. “We’re going to the pulmonary pavilion at MD Anderson,” the woman said to the driver, as she climbed in next to me.
“Are you going for treatment?” I asked after introducing myself. “This is our first time here,” she explained. “I was diagnosed with lung cancer in December.”
“My husband has lung cancer,” I told her. “We’ve been coming to Houston now for seven years. I know how scary it can be at first, but it gets better.”
She started to cry. “Six weeks before the doctors told me about the lung cancer, my husband was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig Disease. Then the lung cancer. The doctor said it is in both lungs and inoperable. That is why we came here for a second opinion.”
Talk about a double whammy. Two terminal diagnoses within two months. We told them about Jim’s grim prognosis and the miracles we had experienced. They gave us their e-mail and we added them to our f.a.i.t.H. list.
I well remember those first days when we prayed to meet someone who would lift our spirits, listen to our story, or just give us a loving pat on the shoulder. Someone who could say, “You are going to be OK. You’re not alone.”
We watched as they walked into the building, holding hands, hopeful that MD Anderson could give them at least one miracle.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Modern Miracle

I don’t know what to say. After seven years of ups and downs, seven years of living with cancer and all that goes with it, Jim is cancer free. The giant has left the house.

In October the oncologist told us there was no sign of the cancer in the bone or the malignant pleural effusion that we have been treating since March of ’09. He called it a miracle saying that there was no medical explanation for the absence of the malignancies. But somehow I couldn’t grasp the magnificence of the news. This time it was different. I got it. I want to shout the good news from the rooftops and sing praises to His glory.

Dr. Rios is not quite sure where we will go from here. He has a “gut feeling” that what Jim needs now is rest and a rebuilding of his immune system. There are some new drugs designed for this very purpose that he wants to research. Jim’s body has taken a beating over the years from the aggressive, toxic chemotherapies, the radiotherapies, and the surgeries. He wants us to undergo some testing (can be done in Memphis) to determine the status of the immune system, assess the collateral damage that has been done, and build from there. He will let us know in a few weeks how to proceed. But NO MORE CHEMO, no more planning around treatments and scans—although I’m sure scans will still be part of our lives, I’m not worrying about it tonight.

There is more to the incredible story—people we met today and yesterday just starting down the road we’ve been traveling, the responses of our physicians, people who have read the book and been encouraged. I will have to write another book for those who don’t know how the story ends. Our cup is overflowing and I can’t wait to tell anyone who will listen about the faithful, loving God we serve.

“Now unto him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,
Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus through all ages, world without end. Amen.”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

update on Jim

Just as well I didn't contact everyone sooner because the prayer requests have changed day by day for the past week. As you know Jim had chemo last Thursday. He also had an appointment with his oncologist at West Clinic the same day. Jim was concerned about a new development--a swelling and pain in his neck actually under the jaw. He has suffered with mouth sores since early summer resulting from one or another of the chemo drugs, but this was different. The Dr. told him that it was not a lymph node, which relieved us somewhat because that is always a fear. However the pain continued.

The chemo side-effects were as bad or maybe the worst yet. Certainly the duration was longer. He was in bed from Friday until Tuesday morning. On Tuesday, we made an appointment with our internist to see about the pain in the jaw area. Dr. Castellaw was quite concerned because the bone in the mouth was visible in 2 places. He then sent us to an ENT to determine whether this should be biopsied. In other words, he wanted to be sure it wasn't a metastasis or a new primary cancer.

The ENT said no biopsy necessary, once again relieving our minds, but not much help with the pain. She said the lump in the neck was a salivary gland, gave him a decadron shot which temporarily helped with inflammation, and made the pain more tolerable.

As the shot wore off the pain increased. Today he made an appointment with our trusted prosthodontist who recognized the severity of the problem and sent him immediately to the oral surgeon. By this time Jim was frustrated, frightened and in excruciating pain.

The oral surgeon confirmed that this is osteonecrosis (dead bone essentially) resulting from the Zometa Jim has taken monthly to treat the bone metastasis of the lung cancer. Osteonecrosis is very difficult to treat and there are several options but for us right now the most important consideration is treating the infection which is causing the pain.

Pray for:
1. relief from the pain (he is taking oxycodone).
2. healing from the infection (Augmentin)
3. that he will be able to eat soon
4. that he won't have to be under the care of an infectious disease specialist, hospitalized for IV antibiotics

We are grateful that the x-rays show the damage to in both areas of the jaw is less than expected, although if I understand it correctly, the Zometa has a long half-life ( stays in the system for years), continuing to do its good work and its bad. We are also thankful that his teeth aren't loose yet.

This is a very serious infection, doubly hard to treat because of the other chemotherapy drugs he is taking and his resulting compromised immune system. We will address the other problems later.

Under His wing,


Saturday, January 9, 2010

MRI experience

Several months ago when I resolved to open myself to new experiences, I wasn’t thinking of an MRI. When the doctor told me in December that I would need an MRI to determine the extent of injury to my shoulder, I decided to put it off until the New Year.

I have never had an MRI, but I thought I knew what to expect after talking to friends who lived through the procedure. I wasn’t really afraid. I mean if it wasn’t painful I surely could handle it. I’m pretty stoic when it comes to medical procedures. I had a baby during the natural childbirth era sans epidural. I suffered through a colonoscopy in 1978 with no anesthetic. I could surely handle an MRI that involved no pain or discomfort.

The person who called to set up the insurance payment and confirm the time and place asked if I was claustrophobic. “No, no,” I assured her--and myself. I pride myself on having no irrational fears or phobias. Perfect mental health here. Although, I read a true story once about a girl buried alive (ultimately rescued) but the image was seared in my mind and remains my number one least favorite way to die.

I arrived at the office where I had been many times before with my mother and with Jim. Familiar surroundings. Filled out the papers. All no’s. Good so far. The questions most repeated: “Are you claustrophobic?” and “Do you have any foreign material in your body.?” No, no and no.

The technician gets me settled on the comfortable table, gets me the blanket I request. I am ready for a 20 minute nap—toasty and warm—no pain, not even any discomfort.
“Have you ever had an MRI?” she asks handing me earplugs.

I’ve worn ear plugs on numerous occasions, being a former swimmer. But these earplugs were inefficient, not ergonomically designed to fit the human ear canal—at least not mine. I inserted them, head cocked, attempting to create a seal against the noise I had been told to expect. The technician stood patiently beside me while I twisted and turned in vain.

“These aren’t going to work,” I said.”Maybe some cotton?” I really thought a Kleenex wetted with spit and twisted into a funnel shape would be better, but I didn’t want her to think me odd. The cotton didn’t work so I tried the earplugs again and shoved them in the best I could.

“O.K.,” she said. “Here we go.”

The machine was making some noise already—a rhythmic sound not entirely unpleasant which I assumed (correctly) would be louder once I was entombed. Tolerable-I thought.
“Do you want the fan off or on?” the disembodied voice comes from afar.
Oh.Oh. Tough decision. Will I suffocate if it’s off? Or is off preferable to the cool breeze I feel blowing around my face.
“Off,” I answer trying not to think of the buried-alive-girl.
Fan off. Blanket on. Deep breathing. Ready for my nap.
An alarm sounds. Not just an alarm—a fog horn, signaling what? A Malfunction of the machine? A fire in the building? A nuclear emergency?

“Be calm,” I tell myself. “It will stop or someone will come to get you out.” Neither happens.

I wave my hand. “Hello? Is this supposed to be happening? What’s going on?”

The voice again--removed and distant.
“Yes, that’s the sound you’re going to hear.”
No way. “Can I come out for a minute?”

She slides me out or rather the machine spits me out. “I had no idea the sound was going to be that loud and noxious.I think I’ll try ear phones with music.”

“Sorry, we don’t have those here. Do you want to try again? Well have to start over.”

I know what to expect now. Surely I can do this. I am not claustrophobic, I repeat I am not claustrophobic.

The sounds start anew. I am relaxed, going with the flow. Pray, I think. The fog horn stops. Ten second respite. I am assaulted by an army of angry woodpeckers. “Rat-a-tat-tat, Rat-a-tat-tat.”

I forget about praying. I remember that I am easily distracted by noises. Some kind of mental deficiency allowing me to focus on only one thing at a time. I wore earplugs during most of my dormitory years. Having grown up in a very quiet home as an only child I was a light sleeper easily awakened by any noise. A noisy furnace. A dripping faucet. Cicadas on a summer night. I can’t listen to music when I study or TV when I write. Sensory overload. Why did I think I would be able to nap in this thing when I can’t sleep in a room with ticking clock?

The woodpeckers stop. The basketball buzzer starts. Wait there are undertones—sounds like Froggy twanging his magic twanger. Wonder if I have some other kind of phobia, something they should list on the questionare? Maybe I have acousticophobia? No I’m not really afraid of the noises—I just don’t like them.

Peace. Temporarily.

New sound. A single propeller plane preparing for take-off. Distant machine guns accompanied by a tuning fork—yep an A natural. No, I’m sure it’s a B flat. Wonder if I have perfect pitch? No one’s ever noticed, but I’m sure that’s a B flat. What’s that tapping in my ear? Sound like it’s inside not out. Did I forget about some lingering piece of metal imbedded somewhere in my body about to be pulled through the skin by the powerful magnetic field? Maybe mercury fillings or gold caps? I have a lot of them.

Can’t someone improve this machine so that it does its work in silence? I’d like to know the mechanics that cause the sound in magnetic resonance imaging. Resonance. Sound waves. That’s it. Sound waves are bouncing off something giving them a picture of my insides.

The voice comes again. “Almost through. We need to repeat one test. It will only take about four minutes.”

Hope it’s the tuning fork. Not the basketball buzzer.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Snow Days

I love snow-days—a fact which seems paradoxical knowing how rigid and controlling I am. Yet, when Ron Childers breaks into the regular scheduled programming with a weather announcement predicting ice or snow, my heart goes pitter-patter.
Snow days are a phenomenon peculiar to the south. Surprisingly, above the Mason Dixon line, where we had many snowy days, we had very few “snow-days.” Even during the blizzard of ‘79 which dumped several feet of snow on the Midwest, life went on as usual. But in the mid-south, just the threat of icy precipitation creates bedlam. Highway crews are put on alert; grocery stores are emptied of bread, milk, and marshmallows; and children are glued to the TV hopefully waiting for news of school closings. Former Boy Scouts crowd the aisles of Home Depot in search of batteries and generators. Lines form outside Blockbuster. An approaching snow fall engenders more excitement than the arrival of Santa Claus.
When we moved to Memphis, we brought with us the Yankee attitude toward snow and ice. Our cars were filled with antifreeze; our sleds and snow shovels were within easy reach; and everyone in the family was outfitted with snow gear and boots. We didn’t know that southerners prepared in a different way.
On a December day, before a flake had fluttered to the ground, my sixth-grader called from school.
“Mom, can you come and get me?” she said.
“Are you sick?” I asked.
“No, but everyone is gone.”
“Gone where?” (I’m thinking rapture.)
“Gone home. Their moms picked them up because of the snow.”
Before long I was properly indoctrinated in Southern ways. I knew that y’all was part of the southern dialect but I was unprepared for its versatility. When I picked my five-year old up at school I heard her presumably well-educated teacher say, “Is this y’all’s coat?” Wow! I didn’t know the word had a possessive form. Now I know that y’all can be singular, plural, nominative, subjective, possessive, and superlative—as in “all y’yall.” I learned to eat grits, cornbread, and slaw on barbecue. And I was absorbing a new attitude about weather forecasts.
After the first actual snowfall, I understood the southerner’s over-reaction to snow. They lacked the benefit of training and experience. No one could get out of their drives after a snowfall, because no one shoveled snow. While our neighbors sat in their warm houses enjoying the Currier and Ives scene, Jim cleared our driveway. The next morning when the packed snow had turned to ice, Jim drove happily off to work while the neighbors were trapped inside—victims of inadequate weather education.
Of course, we didn’t know that getting out of the driveway was the easy part. The road crews weren’t prepared to clear the side roads, so driving was treacherous. The road conditions were exacerbated by the ineptitude of the drivers who had never learned to navigate snow-packed roads. Those, like us, who ventured out in direct violation of the warnings, took their lives in their hands.
Unaware of the danger, I dared to jump in my car, toddler in the back (car-seat non-existent), and headed out into the melee. As I crept through the intersection at Poplar and Germantown road, I opened my window to get a better view. Mistake. Just as I turned the corner, a city worker threw a shovel full of cinders into my open window interrupting my rousing rendition of “Silver Bells.” I was spitting and sputtering, momentarily blinded, and left picking cinders out of cranial orifices for weeks.
The excitement of the kids was contagious and I celebrated with them when the announcement of school closings included Shelby County. They went to bed with their pajamas inside out—a superstition guaranteed to work, in case their prayers weren’t enough to counteract their dad’s. For some reason, he never got into the snow-day spirit-- much to our consternation. Maybe he was jealous since he was the only one who couldn’t turn off the alarm and crawl back into the warm bed. Wall Street didn’t shut down because of a little snow in cotton country. Jim took the closings as a personal affront, an indication that America was moving toward annihilation as the citizens became slackers and sissies.
We were among the few families that owned a sled and a toboggan. So the neighborhood kids sought out the nearest hill (or slight rise in the ground) and tramped up and down repeatedly until they were sliding on dirt. After a few hours they came in smelling of wet wool mufflers and mittens. I stood ready to fortify them with hot chocolate and warm cookies before they headed out again to take advantage of the short-lived winter playground.
The children are long-gone now but I still thrill to the list of closings and cancellations on the bottom of the TV. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because a snow-day brings the kind of imposed cessation of obligation that otherwise comes only with hospitalization—my own. Everything comes to a halt—a cease-fire in the harried battle of life where the commander-in-chief has given us a twenty-four hour reprieve. Shall we watch an old movie, read a good book or my favorite, bake some gooey verboten comfort food?
Pull out the stops. On a snow-day anything goes.