The Big 6-2

Leroy E. Sievers

Born June 16, 1955….Turning the BIG 6-2 tomorrow, don’t I wish.

Instead, I’m writing about him tonight and thinking about the ‘what if’s’ of a life cut short two months shy of 9 years ago.

Colon cancer is a nasty cancer.  It brought down a 6-foot 5-inch tower of strength in a hide-and-seek game of “Catch me if you can.”

Some days, we actually thought we were winning the game.  Those were great days too. Leroy had the ability to push cancer away, keep it out of his thoughts.  Instead I’d  hear his deep, booming laugh.  I’d see him hiking in the Grand Tetons or floating in the pool in Maui.

Nothing gave him more pride than putting on a solid, information packed “Nightline” broadcast.  He actually looked forward to planning coverage of a conflict that held a secret spot on a global map, because it meant bringing that spot into your living room and making you aware of a part of the world that needed attention.  It was a challenge he welcomed with gusto.

He also liked the coming home part too.  That was the best part for me, because I always worried that one day all that planning would fall just a little short, and something bad would take the place of seeing him walk through those doors at customs.  But it never happened.

What did happen was an up and down, back and forth tug-of-war with cancer and death.  THAT is a brutal combo to beat. We tried so hard to beat it.

The ‘birthday celebration weeks,’ his favorite grocery store baked cakes, the chicken pies from Moffet’s in California, and so many other birthday traditions adopted over the years are tucked away in my heart now.  I dust them off every June 16th because they make it a better day, an easier day for me to remember.

I will always remember, Leroy.  Happy Birthday

 

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There are some cancers people don’t get.  When it hits home in the form of a ‘mass cell tumor’ on the most loving, special girl who walks on four legs, it really doesn’t matter. It’s still cancer and it’s still serious and for the humans who love this dog, it is nervous time.

High anxiety knocked hard in my family over the weekend and reality set-in yesterday with the diagnosis that “Bean” is in for a battle.  She has a cancerous tumor, called a ‘mass cell tumor’ on her right rear leg.  She’s scheduled for surgery in a couple of weeks, once they get her thyroid calmed down and she feels more like herself.

There really isn’t any medicine for the people who know her and love her.  We can’t get the fact that she has cancer out of our heads or our hearts.  The doctor I consulted with about her diagnosis deals in humans and cancer at Johns Hopkins.  I know that sounds ridiculous, that I would ask for an opinion from a leading oncologist at Hopkins, but if I’m lucky enough to work with these wizards, why not reach out?  And even though he doesn’t see this kind of cancer in his patients, he still knew enough about it to share some details with me.  And if there’s anything I learned in the 8 years of dealing with Leroy’s cancer journey, knowledge is power in cancer world; human or dog.

It’s still too early to tell exactly how serious this could be.  This type of cancer is very treatable if it’s contained to Bean’s leg.  Pathology will tell the story once they get the growth cut away.  Some vets, I’m told, suggest radiation, and there are two different chemo drugs prescribed, post-op.  There’s even an immunotherapy line of drugs available too.

All of this sounds way too familiar.  In fact, when I heard the words, “Bean’s got cancer,” that old, haunting feeling washed over me like a wave, all over again.

Seven years ago today, Bean was rescued from the confines of the Oakland, California pound by two loving members of my family. I’m not sure who fell in love first; Beanie or Matthew and Marisa.  I do know that the three of them have become a wonderful family.  Now, this little family is in crisis.

Human cancer, dog cancer, it really doesn’t matter; it’s time to rally and find out how best to try and save our girl, Bean.

 

 

 

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I remember the day he was born and now he’s graduating high school. From his first day to his present day so much has unfolded.  He’s grown into a super kid.  He had his moments as a little guy when he wanted things his way or no way, but we all went through those years.

School came a little too easy and there were times when cracking a book lost out to a ballgame or Sports Center or texting with friends.  He was lectured by his Dad to “stop fooling around and start studying” and that would work for a while, but baseball or basketball seemed to be so much more important.

Thankfully when grades began to really count, he found his way and the grades followed.  He’ll be going to a terrific college in the Fall.

If only his Dad was here to see it.

It’s almost 6 years now that leukemia took his life.  The Dad, who pleaded with his son to study more, has missed the beauty of watching this young man grow into some one he would so proud of; some one who has his father’s expressions and on occasion even resembles his Dad with a wince or a smile.  Cancer strikes hard.

This grown-up guy will stand with his friends and graduate this weekend.  Family and friends will smile and applaud and try to pretend all is right on this joyous occasion, but in reality we’ll all be missing that Dad.

It’s just not complete without him.

 

 

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It’s been 15 months since she lost the love of her life and he died after a very short, very intense cancer struggle that turned her family upside down.

There were the kids first-of-all, who thought their Dad would live forever. Nothing, much less cancer, would ever take him away. If he always came home from the scariest places on earth, he could certainly knock-out cancer.  He was the rock of the family.

And then there were the grandkids, they looked at their grandpa and saw the ‘Pied Piper.’ He held them as infants and they just smiled and giggled and felt the love through his strong arms.  When they turned into toddlers, they followed behind him as if in a trance.  Where ever Papa Jay was, they NEEDED to be close by.

The giggles are echo’s now and Jay’s steps have disappeared into the shadows, but fog of loss is lifting.  His amazing widow, who has struggled mightily, is starting to notice that while she’s been in mourning, life around her has been moving along.  Spring has turned into Summer and the yard needs work.  Jay’s garden, where his flowers were prized possessions are looking a little leggy.  She’s noticed the house could use a little TLC too.  But the most important sign of all: she’s gone into the closet to find the grandkids journals.  These had been weekly, if not daily accounts of their lives and the lives of the family since their births.  She stopped writing in these books when Jay died.

Now, new entries are coming, the yard will get attention, the bird feeders will welcome back old friends and the “Welcome” sign will be back on the front door.

The fog will probably come and go for a while yet, but the sun is definitely shining over this home once more.

 

 

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Here in the Mid-Atlantic region of the country, it’s been a very mild Spring.  There’s been so much rain I have a variety of mushrooms growing in the woods around me.  So I’ve been a little slower going from warmer to cooler clothes.  My closet still shows evidence of Winter.  Today was the day I decided that it was time to replace the layers of warm undershirts and wool pants.  I’m fairly certain the snow and Winter winds are a half a world away.

And there they were, folded and hiding on a shelf, under my shorts and t-shirts: Leroy’s favorite jeans.  These jeans have been to so many wars, I can’t even count them all.  These jeans have been to beach bar-b-q’s, baseball games, they’ve partied at Super Bowls and have successfully aired thousands of ABC NEWS “Nightline” broadcasts, literally by the seat of his pants! Some nights were close.

And now, I look at them and hold them and still find a reason to keep them.  I can’t let them go.  Leroy and his jeans: they were one.  No other piece of clothing identified him more.  His shirt sleeves were always rolled up to his elbows and he had on his jeans.  Even when he wore his Hawaiian shirts, those jeans were the other half of the picture.

The image is still crystal clear.

So as I change over the closet to Summertime clothing, the heavier pieces will be tucked away for another season.

Those jeans will be there too.  His favorite jeans are one of my favorite memories.

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HAIR

HAIR

It’s such a part of who we are, how we identify ourselves and when we hear the words, “You have cancer,” one of the first things we ask the doctor when he mentions chemotherapy is “Will I lose my hair?”

Most of the time a regiment of chemo means losing your hair.  It really depends on the drugs but if it doesn’t completely fall out, it’s pretty likely your hair will become thin and wispy during treatment.

And so it was with my friend who has just finished her chemo and radiation.  Her hair came out in clumps.  It caused a lot of anxiety.  She’s worn her long hair in a ponytail for a very long time.  Occasionally, she’d wear it down and I would barely recognize her.  But her hair was a big part of her identity.  Without it, she stayed inside a lot, or she wore a ‘chemo cap’ or stretchy cap to hide her baldness.

So now it’s hot outside, the pool is open and she’s having a hard time coming to grips with her old routine of sitting in the sunshine and talking to the same pool pals she’s had for more than 20 years.  It’s just not easy.

Her doctor told her to sit in the shade.  She said too much sun isn’t good for my friend following all that treatment.  Her hair has grown in and it looks like a Peter Pan cut; very short and the gray has taken over where brown once resided.  These are all big changes in her eyes, but for those of us who are just happy to have her back at the pool, short, gray hair is hardly an issue.

But try and tell her that!

So we’ve come light years since it used to be the whispers about so-and-so having cancer that caused the patients to hide in their homes.  CANCER was the issue.  For years, the word cancer wasn’t even mentioned in conversation.  Other words were used, but not CANCER.

Now, it’s about the hair, or lack of it.  Being bald gives us away now.  Are there still whispers, I hope not.  I hope we’ve gotten past that part.

But it’s going to take a long time to get past the hair.

 

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It’s the new deal in treatment.  It’s called “precision medicine.”

Expensive, targeted meds designed to tackle specific tumors.  The same med that works on certain colon cancers could also be effective against another specific tumor.

There’s another “precision medicine” in my book.  That’s the one where you, the care giver, advocating for your patient needs to be precise and direct when it comes to the proper care and treatment of your loved one.

There’s no more nodding yes to everything the physician says, just because you’re in awe of your doctor.  You can never be too tired to question the treatment suggested.  Go to school on your cancer.  Know what is being studied about it and what drugs are being given to stop it.

Be precise and clear and know what you need to address with each visit to the doctor.  Your loved ones’ life depends on it.

Precision medicine …its’ more than the drugs killing cancers.

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We mean well, we really do, but sometimes the words just don’t match what we’re trying to convey.   This is especially true when it comes to cancer, care givers or even patients.  And it can happen during the illness or following the loss of a loved one.

I remember it happening to me and to Leroy more than once.  We’d have visitors over who came to cheer him up and tell stories and have a few laughs.  All would be going smoothly and then when it was time for them to leave, they’d say something like, “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” or “My Aunt Kathy had what you have, she didn’t make it, but you’re a real fighter.”

I’d get the “Hang in there, Laurie” or “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

I would close the door and wonder, WHY would something like that even enter their minds much less leave their lips?

So consider this to be a friendly reminder from someone who has been on the receiving end of some of the most outrageous attempts at “meaning well.”

Think before you speak.  That you speak at all says a lot about how much you care and that means a lot to the caregiver or the patient, just think-it before you speak-it.

 

 

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If you’re in the car, behind an SUV stuffed with beach toys and luggage, I feel your pain; Should have left earlier!!

I’m sitting at the computer working on a web cancer series that will hopefully guide those who are looking for cancer care in the Washington Capitol region.  Any information that helps cancer patients get comprehensive care is worth working on even when others are fixated on the beach, the bar-b-que, and a long awaited weekend.

Precision cancer care is here.  It’s targeted, to each patient and their cancer.  Even the toughest cancers are showing they can’t escape what immunotherapy and other treatments are providing doctors as they attempt to turn certain cancers into chronic diseases.

In a few days, some of the very best cancer physicians, researchers and scientists will gather for their annual meeting and no doubt we’ll hear some good news about how these dedicated men and women are making big-time gains against this beast that has changed so many of our lives.  We have to believe in their work.  We have to hope that some day they’ll be out of work: No more cancer.

But right now, the first, big holiday of the summer season is upon us. Don’t forget it is Memorial Day…honor and remember our Veterans.

Travel carefully….Be safe.

 

 

 

 

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Till death do us part…

How do those words fit into real life?  How do they fit into cancer world? If you uttered those exact words, and lost the one you swore to be the love of your life, is there another one out there for you?

It’s like precision medicine these days.  Each person’s illness is unique; so their meds and treatment need to be suited to them.  It’s personal.  It’s individualized medicine and it’s much more effective than the old way when it was one plan for everyone.

So I guess we all have to decide for ourselves, what works best now that our world has been turned from two to one.  We have to decide how long it should be before we even open up our hearts and allow another person a peek inside.

It probably depends on how involved we were in the care of the one we lost.  It depends on what the relationship was before the diagnosis. And it depends on how we handle being a one instead of a two.  Is one half of the closet empty now, or does that dress or shirt still bring back special memories?

Till death do us part…..

 

 

 

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