Happy 80th Birthday, Mom.

Happy birthday to a wonderful woman. Mom.
A grand day to celebrate, today would have been your 80th birthday.

Today, I choose to think of the joyful life events in our family over the last eleven years that you would have been so happy to see and take part in.

Your grandchildren all graduating and going off to college, graduations from college, the weddings of three granddaughters (getting to know the wonderful men they married).

The birth of three great-granddaughters and the addition of another – playing with them, teaching them silly songs, cuddling and hugging them and enjoying their energy and personalities.

Also meeting Jeff in person – you  would had fun helping us plan and prep for our wedding. I know would have loved celebrating our wedding and being a part of our relationship.

I can see you reveling in our family gatherings and having a good time seeing family and friends. You and Dad would have shared retirement and been happy to travel to see both familiar places and discover new ones.

You would have liked being on Facebook and Pinterest.

BTW… the Oregon State Beavers baseball team won two national championships. I know you would have cheered them on. OH…. and I must mention that during those eleven years, your Seattle Seahawks went to the Superbowl and now have a chance to go again. I remember that you LOVED football at all levels – I think your favorite was Touchet High School Football and then any college football. And you truly loved the Seattle Seahawks from the beginning. I did not understand the attraction until I was older, now I get it. Just ask Jeff, I get it. And, oh Yes, I am a big DUCKS football fan….. but, you really do know all this, that I am sure of. 😉

You are with us, guiding us everyday. I miss you physically being here, but thankfully, I don’t have to miss your spirit.

I love you Mom. And, based on all the comments on my Facebook page today, many others do to. 🙂

I am still oh so proud and happy to be your daughter. HUGS.

Thanksgiving…. for now…..

Thanksgiving, in our county, is this coming Thursday.

Thanksgiving, in our family, came today.
Actually, today’s Thanksgiving is just one of the many Thanksgiving celebrations we will have.

You see, today, my brother returned to grade school, so to speak.
Today, he received a certificate of accomplishment. A major accomplishment.
He got to ring the bell — the big gold bell…. a well deserved reward.

Today, my brother had his LAST radiation treatment. Quite something to celebrate.

Since early October, he has endured being secured to a table – under a mask, contoured to his  face, neck and upper body, to keep him still and in the same position to receive radiation beams every day, five days a week. He as also sat quietly while chemotherapy drugs coursed through his veins on one of those days each week. All to try to arrest the metastatic papillary thyroid cancer that had become more aggressive…. now, an angry cancer with a mean streak.

While the mask has not been the most comfortable thing, he and the mask have been through a lot and the mask helped to keep him still and in the same position so the radiation beams could be targeted to bombard the cancer, to knock it back.

The initial discomfort of the mask now pales in comparison to the current radiation burns on his neck and chest, his ravaged and raw throat complete with thick mucus that he has to cough up or choke on, the awful metallic taste in his mouth and the nausea and vomiting he battles. Then, there is the fatigue…. only rest and sleep… and more sleep can help that.

There are new medicines to take: painkillers; anti-nausea; cream to sooth his radiation-burned skin; a liquid to swallow to cool and coat his throat and esophagus.

Nutrition now is high calorie ‘shakes’ several times a day, when he can keep them down. Intravenous fluids when he can’t – that really helps him to feel better.

All these radiation treatments and chemotherapy infusions are a direct result of a visit with doctors/specialists in Seattle late last September….when he was to have life-saving surgery. He (and the rest of our family) was mentally prepared for the surgery when everything came to a crashing halt. The cancer had changed, spread, became more aggressive. Instead of surgery, more testing. More waiting and uncertainty. More agony. More sleepless hours for my brother. The testing done, he, along with his wife and middle daughter went into consult with the team of specialists while Dad and I stayed in the waiting room. I felt Mom sitting right there with us… and I was hoping that my brother felt her presence too…. he needed her there… we all did. I know she was. Mom was there to bolster us all as we learned that the life-saving surgery was cancelled. (How can that be? What does that mean? Are they giving up?) The cancer dictated what would take place in his life now. Cancer was much worse than expected. It had spread a lot. Surgery would mean removing his voice box, possibly his trachea and maybe a carotid, maybe more, totally devastating his quality of life and without guarantee it would be all gone. He was sent home, back across the state of Washington to get set up with radiation and chemotherapy at a cancer center in Tri-Cities. The new plan was to try to arrest the cancer, slow it down, anything else was to be considered a bonus. Stunned, does not really describe how we all felt.

He’s endured much, since he was first diagnosed over a year ago. The other day, at his latest appointment his radiation specialist told him that as bad as he feels now, he will surely feel even worse in about two weeks….. then the long, long road back to feeling better. Feeling better will come more slowly than feeling this bad did.

Thanksgiving for the seemingly little, yet GIGANTIC accomplishments like receiving a certificate of accomplishment and the privilege of ringing a big gold bell are worth every blessed moment of celebration.

And… Thanksgiving always reminds me of Mom.
Mom always loved celebrations, any reason to celebrate was reason enough.
Mom always loved celebrating Thanksgiving.
Mom always loved celebrating her family.

Thanksgiving for now will be giving thanks that my brother is still here… still fighting on.
Thanksgiving for now will be giving thanks that my brother has endured his radiation and chemo treatments.
Thanksgiving for now will be our traditional family dinner… yet my brother won’t be able to enjoy the food, just the company of his loving family, the energy of his beautiful granddaughters.

Thanksgiving later…. when he feels better and can eat food again… will be a feast…. a GRAND CELEBRATION. A truly thankful Thanksgiving celebration.

Soup’s On

A cloudy, pre-Fall Saturday.

First soup of the season…..

Made with acorn squash (baked and pureed), chopped sweet onions, chopped celery.
Some heat (red chili flakes, a few dashes of ancho chili and some cayenne).
Herbs (basil and sage)
Sweet spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice)

All in an orange juice base with a bit of black pepper, some brown sugar, some butter to smooth is out and milk to thin it a bit near the end of cooking. YES… I forgot to add any granulated garlic and ginger… but it tastes great without it. YUM..

Won’t do any good to ask for a recipe… I just started cooking and tossed in things I thought would make it taste good.

I learned this cooking method from Mom. It worked well for her and usually does for me.

Replacing chicken stock with orange juice made for an interesting flavor, not to mention far less sodium. I just added ingredients, stirred and let the scent of the mixture guide the next step. Of course, I taste tested along the way.

Yes… another made up recipe.

I was taught to cook this way by the BEST…  My Mom.

I can hear her saying, “Soup’s On.”

Persistence

Through grueling hours, days of persistence in pursuit of a highly skilled surgeon to even review his case, my brother and his endocrinologist feel they won the lottery.

It was not easy.

Working with an insurance company.
Sometimes they seemed like a heartless lot without an inkling of a soul.

Sifting through online documents trying to find just the right, highly skilled surgeon who in turn would be approved by the insurance company, and who worked at an approved facility. Not an easy task.

Calls were made. Return calls were anticipated.

Finally. A call they had been waiting for. A highly skilled surgeon told them to send him all the documents regarding the case so he could review them. All the local documents, test results and all of the same from the Mayo Clinic.

We could now all breathe a bit easier, especially my brother and his doctor.

Couple this search with the fact that both my brother and his doctor are working a full schedule. Both have a life away from work. Both want the best possible outcome for my brother. I feel like he won the lottery when he was assigned to this doctor. She’s the best and I could never thank her enough for all she’s done for my brother. For what she’s done for my family.

The highly anticipated call came. After reviewing the case, the highly skilled surgeon, at a Seattle hospital said he would do the surgery. AND… both the surgeon and the hospital were approved by the insurance company.

Mixed emotions. While my brother was so impressed with the Mayo Clinic and knew he’d be in good hands there, he is comfortable with the man who will perform the life-saving surgery closer to home.

Again… a lottery win.

Persistence paid off.

Mom taught us that.

Won’t give up.

After a week of coping with what is going on with my brother’s battle with stage 4c papillary thyroid cancer and coming to grips with what my Dad said last night, I simply needed an evening alone…. a simple evening at home.  Alone.  An evening to create.

My brother needs surgery. A difficult, complicated surgery. Life saving surgery.

My Dad is dealing with chronic kidney disease and told me that he’d refuse kidney dialysis if his kidney disease got that bad. We had a short, unhappy conversation about that. It ended abruptly.

My coping skills were less than stellar today. I needed a distraction when I got home from work.

I am making a quilt. I wanted, no, needed to work on it. I love fabric. I love color. I love creating something, basically from next to nothing. Creating something from an idea. Creating…. soothes my soul.

While I was working on my project – a baby quilt for my great-niece to be, such a life affirming project – I was listening to Sirius radio through my satellite television connection. One of my favorite music groups came on.

Train.

With one of my favorite songs.

“Calling All Angels”, just what I needed to hear.

The song mirrored my need for my Mom to help my family.
To help me cope with all this.
To help my family cope with all this.
To help me, help them.

“I need a sign, to let me know you’re here
All of these lines are being crossed over the atmosphere
I need to know, that things are gonna look up
‘Cause I feel us drowning in a sea spilled from a cup”

“When there is no place safe and no safe place to put my head
When you can feel the world shake from the words that are said”

“And I’m, calling all Angels  (—me— calling my Angel)
And I’m, calling all you Angels”

“And I won’t give up, if you don’t give up
I won’t give up, if you don’t give up
I won’t give up, if you don’t give up
I won’t give up, if you don’t give up”

“I need a sign to let me know you’re here
‘Cause my TV set just keeps it all from being clear
I want a reason for the way things have to be
I need a hand to help build up some kind of hope inside of me”

“And I’m, calling all Angels  (—me— calling my Angel)
And I’m, calling all you Angels”

Read more: Train – Calling All Angels Lyrics | MetroLyrics

So…. I am calling on my Angel….

I am channeling Mom, more each day.

And, since I know she won’t give up.

I won’t give up.

In Between

Last week my brother and sister-in-law celebrated their 32-wedding anniversary in Rochester, Minnesota.

They weren’t truly celebrating in Rochester by their own choice. They had traveled to Minnesota so that my brother could be examined by specialists. His local endocrinologist had sent him there for highly specialized care.

My brother and his doctor are battling stage 4c papillary thyroid cancer. He’s endured having his thyroid removed, two sessions of radioactive iodine and countless examinations. He’s endured being told that ‘this is the best kind of cancer to have’……. whatever that statement means. He’s endured two surgeries and recovery periods. He’s endured nerve pain and dealing with the scarring due to those surgeries. He’s endured bouts of sleeplessness and swelling that hampers his swallowing. He’s endured the balance of getting enough rest and trying to get back to work. He’s endured his own concern for his family and the high cost of treatment.

Last Friday, my brother called me to let me know of the results of all this testing which included a painful biopsy of tissues in his neck. (I was wrong in thinking that what I read online the day before was correct, that the biopsy would not be all that painful. I know that my brother has a high pain tolerance, so I know that it really hurt.) He told me that he met with a team of specialists.

The surgeon and endocrinologist told him that at this point, surgery was no longer an option, it is a MUST. Beam radiation treatments won’t get all the cancer cells.

The two previous treatments of radioactive iodine had not done their intended job. Now, the small amount of cancer cells that had hidden during the thyroidectomy have grown in number and have become aggressive.

The surgeon gave my brother detailed information regarding the surgery. He also gave him the golf analogy “a hard lie” to express the difficulty of the surgery. Even though my brother does not play golf, he understood the stark reference.

Now he was caught in between a difficult surgery, a known painful recovery and an unknown quality of life … or …. worse, if no treatment, way worse.

A tentative surgery date was schedule.

That’s a lot to digest and deal with.  Calls to family had to be made. Results had to be relayed.

And… as if ALL this was not enough, my brother called me the next day to tell me that the insurance company was balking at coverage. They stated the Mayo Clinic is ‘out of network’ and if that did not change and he went ahead with the surgical treatment there he would be financially responsible for half the cost. I did my best to assure him he’d have help paying for the treatment if he were to go ahead with it. I’d help to pay every month for as long as it took. I’d enlist other family to help him too. He said that they’d have to jump through hoops to get the insurance company to authorize the treatment whether in his home state at a facility approved by the company or after looking over the exam records possibly allowing treatment at the Mayo Clinic.

My brother is caught. Caught in between.

In between the specialists who know how difficult and yet how necessary this surgical treatment is and the insurance company not prepared to cover the cost at a facility ‘out of network.’

In between the necessary treatment and great concern for being so far in debt that he’d never get out.

A tough place to be, yes, ‘a hard lie.’

And, in between the team of specialists and the insurance company.

My brother’s quality of life.

In between

My brother’s life.

Relief

Today the ultrasound guided neck biopsy was scheduled.

I can’t tell you all the uncomfortable, painful things I imagined.

Late this morning I got brave enough to google it. I was curious to learn what my brother was going through. The information I read made it seem not to be nearly as bad as I had thought. Thankfully. Not only for me, but for my brother who was the subject of the biopsy. I wanted it to be easy for my sister-in-law too, so she would not worry.

I learned that an icy cold topical numbing agent can be sprayed on the skin at the injection site to assist in some relief. To my amazement, I learned that a local anesthetic used in a neck biopsy is usually more painful than the actual biopsy. I read the biopsy does not take a long time either, yet, I don’t know how long today’s neck biopsy was as my brother has a few spots that needed to be examined. I was relieved to learn that it was probably was not as bad as I imagined.

I can imagine how brave my brother was for this procedure. He had a great example. When our Mom was battling leukemia she had to have a few bone marrow biopsies. These are a rather large needle aspiration done into the pelvic bone. Most people ask to be put under general anesthetic.  Mom never did, just a local. She was tough. A courageous woman. I was blessed to have been right by her side during the last bone marrow biopsy she had and I could hardly believe my eyes. Here was my mother, so very sick from the end stages of this horrible disease and she still would not take the general anesthetic.  She just had the local, calmed herself and stayed still so the DR could drill into her pelvic bone, get the marrow he needed to test and get done. Over with. On to relief.

Through Facebook, I was able to check on one of my nieces whom I had not made a connection with this week and relieved to hear from her. The youngest of my brother’s three daughters performs ultrasounds for a living at a large hospital.

Here is her response, “Okay…things hit me at weird times… just anxiously waiting to see what the doctors say…but I am doing my part with every thyroid Biopsy patient I get (I did 2 today) so that kinda helps me. I can’t be there with mom and dad, I try to show my patients how important their procedure is to me by caring for them as if they were him.”  

Through her words, I know what kind of special treatment my brother (and sister-in-law) are receiving even though they are at a different facility. Medical professionals are often quite similar. I know. We have many caring medical people in our family and in our circle of friends. If they didn’t care, they couldn’t do well in their profession and that would show in their patients.

Also in another Facebook post, I saw a photo of my brother and sister-in-law. The self-portrait photo showed us all two happy people out enjoying the sunshine on their 32nd wedding anniversary.

Talk about relief.