She feels fine.  She’s back at the gym.  She’s a spinning fanatic and she’s back lifting light weights to regain the muscle tone she lost while she was in treatment.  Chemotherapy and radiation interrupt the normal pace of life and this cancer patient tried very hard to keep-up her gym routine, but there were days her treatment over ruled her plans.

All of those drugs and ‘rads’ are behind her now.  She’s back at the pool swimming her laps and for the most part, feeling pretty good.  I noticed yesterday, she wasn’t quite herself.  When I asked if everything was “OK” she nodded yes but I still wasn’t sold.  Then today when she said she wouldn’t be there to swim tomorrow it dawned on me, it’s check-up day.

Tomorrow is check-up day.  But for the last few days, the anticipation of check-up day has been weighing heavily on her mind.

The “what-if” they find something thoughts begin to build long before the car pulls into the parking lot.  So much anticipation of bad news once you become a cancer patient is a part of belonging to cancer world.  The words “You’ve got cancer” comes with a life long membership to that anxiety.

Check-up days are so important, but they are so stress filled.  Hopefully, it will be just another day and then it’s back in the pool….moving on, one lap at a time.

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Bad things should not happen to good people and tonight I am writing about one of the best who is facing hip replacement surgery.  I’m very aware that getting a new hip isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it hurts and it takes a while to rehab from it and this person shouldn’t have to go through any of that because she’s just the best at what she does for a living.

She’s an oncology nurse.

She was Leroy’s oncology nurse.  I’m not sure what I would have done without her during our journey through cancer world.  She allowed me to lean on her when times were rough.  She just happens to be a great sports fan, so we were able to talk sports instead of cancer when cancer was taking over our lives.  She could explain even the most sensitive, confusing parts of treatment in a way that was so easy to understand.  She is and was the best for two control freak journalists who needed details and suggestions and patience at a time in their lives when the world was upside down.

And did I mention that this wonderful woman never stops moving?  I’ll never forget the first day we met her.  She was whirling around the infusion room and barely had time to say “Hello” and introduce herself.  I don’t know how many patients she had that day when we were just visiting, but every one of them got such expert care and consideration.  We were so lucky she would be ours; not a word you use in a chemo room full of cancer patients.

Her bad hip really hasn’t slowed her down much.  She came speeding across the cancer center lobby the other day and if it hadn’t been for her limp, I would have thought it was just her flying across the room for a quick “Hi” and that would be that.  But the limp was extreme and when she told me about her plans I was immediately worried.  She, of course, set me straight by saying it will be fine. She’s got a great surgeon and  now these new techniques where parts are replaced are so simple, and the rehab is much less stressful.

I could hear her reassuring words and was wondering if they were meant for me, like they were many years ago during Leroy’s treatment, or were they for her, the patient this time around? Regardless, she’s going to go through a rough patch.  And for that I am not happy.

That surgeon, and those nurses who will be in that O-R in a few days, replacing that bad hip better do the best work of their professional lives. This is one very special angel patient scheduled for their table.  And that hip has miles to go before it rests.

 

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These are professional people giving back.  People who have worked hard to build a career and then decided they needed more; they needed to help others, not as savvy, build a life.  So they counsel, they guide, they offer life skills.  Sometimes, these people who need to start over, don’t even have the proper clothing to get them in the front door for an interview.

So these volunteers take their understudies to a special “store” where clothing and shoes have been donated and it’s a shopping day to remember.  These are not ‘hand-me-downs’ from someone who has cleaned out a closet or two and is getting rid of clothes that have been worn to death.  No, these are gently used, fashionable suits, any man would be comfortable wearing for an interview.  How do I know?

I know because I’m familiar with six of those suits.  They were hanging in the closet at this house when I decided someone needed them to fit this exact occasion.  Leroy’s suits were a topic of much discussion when he bought them originally.  One by one, he added them to a wardrobe that consisted of mostly casual wear.  In the field, Leroy wore what he called his ‘war clothes.’  Shirts that would blend into a crowd, nothing with a pattern, nothing that required a coat or tie.  War clothes are basic, bland shirts and jeans for the most part.  His regular work clothes were slacks and shirts with sleeves rolled-up and sometimes a tie.  The suits were for occasions that called for high-end meetings, evening events and really special times.  Leroy was not a big suit guy.  He was a “big” guy and filled out a suit to be sure, but it was a real show of respect if he was wearing a suit to meet with you!

So it was with respect for him and for the reasons this special store exists, that I donated Leroy’s beautifully tailored suits.  When I heard these folks talking about how they are giving back and how much fun it is for them to see these hopeful men walk out of a dressing room wearing a beautiful suit, in preparation for an upcoming interview, I could only imagine that I knew where that suit had come from and even more important, where it was going.

 

 

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The scene: The bank.

The scene setting: A very long line and just one teller, because banks don’t want you to have a personal experience with bank people any more.  The bank used to be one of the places a person could go year after year and really have a relationship with a banker.  You knew their name and they knew you and what your banking preferences were too.  Now, they want you to use the machines.  Withdrawals and deposits are a waste of time to bank people now, so the longer the line, the better.

The scene changer:  Except for the person who was being helped, the rest of us were standing and waiting and waiting some more.  A bank person rounded the corner to observe the long line and decided I would be the one he’d usher out the door to “teach” me how to use the machine.  (I know how to use the machine.)  I calmly said I was fine waiting although I was surprised they had only one teller working.  He launched into his prepared speech about how easy it is to use the machine and persisted that I follow him outside and I did, only to get lectured on how these machines were meant to help all banking customers, even those of us who are used to banking “the old fashioned way.”

The scene closer:  I took that to mean the “older” customers.  So I responded by saying I thought having just one teller available was not good planning on the bank’s part.  He quickly came at me with an explanation: “One of our employees has had a loss in her family.  Are you suggesting that we shouldn’t have given her time off to grieve for her loved one?”

This is where I don’t have to tell you,  that I could have launched into quite a strong response.  Instead, I simply turned away to use the machine to avoid eye contact.  I was just about to begin the transaction when the screen lit-up with a message that said “Out of order, please see the teller inside.”

I walked back into the bank.

You never know who you’re talking to….so don’t EVER go there.

 

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As bad as cancer is, and it is bad, there are ‘pieces’ of it that bring people together.  I mean really bring people together, years after the worst of cancer has happened.

In my experience, I watched Leroy’s circle of friends grow and surround him with love and kindness and caring.  I watched his pals lift him up with so much love it would leave me in tears. And he cared for them so much that at the end of his life, he couldn’t say good-bye.  It was just too painful for him to face a farewell to the group.  We talked about it many times, but he wanted to remember them in the ‘present,’ with “Hello’s” and not “Good-bye’s.”

So fast forward almost 9 years now, and having just gone through his birthday and our anniversary, you can imagine my memory bank is overflowing at the moment.  It’s been an emotional few days and it is exhausting to go through it. But the best part is, I haven’t gone through it alone.  Those great friends have lifted me up too.  All these years later, so many kind words, emails, pictures, events, all played out over the last few days in celebration of Leroy’s life.  He had a VERY good birthday and we had a VERY nice anniversary!

These are the ‘pieces of cancer’ I’m talking about; the friends who stick with you, year after year.  The friends who ‘get-it’ and realize you never stop remembering and you will always miss your person.

On one hand, being the care-giver and the one tasked to find a way to reinvent your life after cancer ends your dreams, is something you have to figure out on your own…period.  But, one the other hand, you have those ‘pieces’ to lean on, to rely on when you’re feeling a little weak in the knees.

I doubt cancer even knows it creates this support team because it’s so busy trying to destroy a perfectly good life.  But I’m here to tell you, something very positive comes from something so awful.  I couldn’t imagine life without those ‘pieces.’

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It’s another day of flash backs.

It’s our wedding anniversary.

 

 

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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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