Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Final Post

For those of you who have followed Vickie's battle with cancer for the last three years I have heartbreaking news. Vickie lost her battle this morning at 11:55 a.m.

Vickie's pain got better, but as it did her weakness and confusion got worse and she developed terrible mouth sores -- so bad she could not eat or drink more than a few small swallows a day. Wednesday she called Dr. Brooks and he said for her to go in and take a shot, and to keep coming in for shots for the next four days, until Saturday. The shot was supposed to raise her blood count and maker her feel better, and it usually works. She took the shot, but they also did labs. As expected, her counts were low. She went back in Thursday and then Friday.

By Friday morning I was very concerned because Vickie wasn't getting better, and told her I might ask the doctor to hospitalize her. She didn't want me to, but I made no promises. She had been scheduled for labs Friday anyway, so they gave her the shot and drew the labs and we waited for the results. When the nurse saw the results she called Dr. Brooks, who came down to the infusion lab to see Vickie. When Dr. Brooks saw the sores and the blood counts he admitted her to the hospital immediately, taking the decision out of my hands.

Saturday morning Vickie was still weak, but after a night of fluids and antibiotics the doctor saw small improvement in her mouth sores and she was completely lucid and able to focus for the first time in days. Everyone thought she was improving, though slowly.

Saturday afternoon about 2:00 or 2:30 p.m. I was in the room alone with Vickie and noticed a change in her breathing, which became faster, shallower and more labored. Shortly after that she was hallucinating or dreaming and waving her hands around, something she normally never does. Within a few minutes she asked me to help her to the restroom and I noticed that she was much weaker than before. When I got her back to bed I asked if she was feeling worse and she nodded yes.

I immediately called the nurse to come look at her. They took her temperature. About two hours earlier her temp had been 97.?. Now it was 100.?. They called Dr. Brooks and he came to see her within a much shorter time than I expected. After checking her over he called in a critical care/lung specialist and an infectious disease specialist. After checking her over some more and conferring, they moved her to ICU.

Dr. Wait, the critical care specialist, then became her main doctor. She told me I could expect Vickie to get worse before she got better, but said that while there were no guarantees, Vickie should improve. They gave her more antibiotics and put her on life support, so her body would not have to labor to support itself and fight off the infection at the same time, because she was too weak to do both. Dr. Wait said Vickie would be in ICU for two to three weeks, if everything went well.

Through the night things seemed to be going pretty much as expected. By this time I had been up about a day and a half. I called some of the family and told them I needed some help as someone needed to be with Vickie. They made plans accordingly and Tony drove up through the night, arriving about 5:15 a.m. on Sunday morning. After talking with him for a while, I left the hospital and drove home to get some sleep.

Tony called me about 9:30a.m. and told me that the doctors had told him Vickie had turned for the worse and nothing was working and that I needed to come back up to the hospital. I arrived in less than an hour and met with Dr. Wait. She told me that Vickie had turned worse in the early morning and that, while she had a few more tricks up her sleeve, it didn't look good. We discussed how far I wanted the treatment to go. I told her that she would have to make the medical decisions as to what might work, but as long as there was reasonable hope to proceed, and when there was not to tell me and we would stop.

They made several further efforts, calling in a kidney/critical care specialist to see if dialysis would help. He checked her over and found there was swelling of the brain and after a discussion between the four doctors involved, it was decided that the point had been reached where nothing would work. I was involved in most of this conversation, though they stepped outside to work through some details and arrive at their final consensus. They came back inside the room and told me their consensus and I made the decision to stop action and remove life support. This was the absolute right decision as is was something Vickie and I had discussed often in the past. Within five minutes, she was gone.

Vickie would want me to say here how hard the doctors tried to save her life. They did everything they could do and told me they would not stop until I was ready for them to stop. They were exemplary both technically and personally.

Not long before Vickie passed away the final blood cultures and scan results came back. The scan showed there was a huge tumor near her appendix and the doctors now believe the cancer was probably widespread in her body, including in her bones. This set off a pair of infections, one of which was very resistant to treatment. The combination of the exceedingly aggressive cancer and the infections overcame her body and was what finally brought her down.

It is perhaps gratuitous for a husband to praise his wife, so let me just say here that there is hardly a person who knew her who doesn't feel better for having done so and worse for having lost her. She was truly one of a kind and I was the luckiest man on earth to share her life and her love for thirty-eight years.

Monday, August 17, 2009

8-17-09 The Shoe Has Fallen

Remember the proverbial shoe that was supposed to drop after the chemo treatment??? Well, Saturday night it dropped. My legs and bottoms of my feet were tender. Sunday was even worse. I called the answering service and asked the oncologist on duty to pescripe me something for the pain. He requested some vicadon which eased off, but did not really stop, the pain.

Today I had a personal taxi service home from work because my manager told me I needed to go home. They did set up my cot in one of the offices that is now empty and I slept until 11:30. I was functioning sort of OK, but then it just got worse and worse. The bottoms of my feet hurt, every joint in my body hurts, I felt like I could throw up. The world was spinnning round & round. I had already been told that arrangements were made for someone to drive Big Red home and for someone else to follow us home to bring the other one back to work. What a wonderful group of people to work with at Unitrin Specialty Insurance!!!

Nadine drove Big Red home & Terri drove her personal car to the house to take Nadine back to work. Sandy thought this was just hunky-dory because he got to meet someone else driving Big Red. I laid down & took a nap and woke up at 4 p.m. David & Sandy went to Walgreen's to pick up another RX for me to see if we can't get rid of the pain.

Friday, August 14, 2009

8-14-09 Chemo #1

It's 8:45 pm and I'm feeling great. Still waiting for the other shoe to fall..... but Dr. Brooks assured me that I wouldn't get sick like before, remember? So far he is true to his word. I took one of my nausea/vomiting pills coming home from the hospital because my liver is still making me sick a little, and that helped just calm everything down.

We were to be at the hospital at 1:00 but we actually got there a little early, for lab work (just the finger stick to see how thick my blood is and what my white/red blood counts are. Then we met with Debbie, Dr. Brooks' RN, to do her pony show of what to expect from chemo. We hurried her right along through that. They didn't have the blood test to me before leaving, so I'll get it next time we're in his office.

We spent about 30 minutes just waiting for the infusion lab to get my Herceptin & my Abraxane cocktails brewed. In the meantime, Libbe started my IV of saline, then she fed through 2 kinds of nausea medicine. She said that this has all changed since I had chemo before. Amazing how quickly they are making progress. By the time they got everything pushed through my port and then cleaned out the port, it was 4:50 pm.

David visited with a woman next door to us in the infusion lab while I was taking a little nap. Her husband was getting a chemo push for Hodgkin's lymphoma. He contracted the disease six years ago, while she was pregnant with their fourth child. He's been in remission several times, but it keeps coming back faster each time and the prognisis is, as she put it, "not good." A year ago she discovered she had breast cancer and they had to stop his treatment while she had a partial mastectomy, radiation and chemo. Dr Laidley is her breast surgeon. She went to the same plastic surgeon practice where Dr. Hodges is. So we had that in common. They are very nice people, in their early 30's, and are Christians. Please pray for Eric & Debra. We also saw a mom and her little girl who was 7-8 years old being wheeled around in the red wagons that MCD has for little ones. She has kidney cancer. God seems to have a way of humbling you when you start the pity party at a hospital. I don't suggest it. God will give you reminder after reminder at the hospital.

We got Burger Island cheeseburgers & French fries for supper. Got through eating and took Sandy for the short walk around our neighborhood. We sat at the park in our area for about 10 minutes while I talked to my Daddy. Then we strolled back home. It was really slow. But when I got back to the house, I didn't feel sick, didn't go to my recliner and zombie out like before. If this holds true, this will be wonderful. I thank God for this great Chapter 2 Chemo #1.

And for my final thought for today: Paula Lindloff who works with me at Unitrin, gave me a wonderful gift today. She got me a big pink squishy lap throw and a pink/side & purple/other side pillow. How thoughtful, Paula, for you to do that! It will now go with me to every treatment. I snuggled right up in it and used the pillow during my short nap, but it made a great lap desk to use working my word circle puzzles to pass the time. Here's the card she gave me:

The inside of the card says: This too shall pass

Ain't it the truth, especially if you are holding God's extended hand through "This". Because there is always a "this" in life and God is there holding you as you tramp through the mud or splash through the rain puddles, if you let him carry you. And God is big enough to do the carrying.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

8-14-09 Day Before Second First Chemo

Dr. Barry Brooks has given us his personal assurance that I will not get sick tomorrow on this cocktail of Herceptin & Abraxane he'll stir up in his cauldron. I plan to tell him that I know where he lives (you can find property by going to He lives in University Park in Dallas, which isn't the swankiest neighborhood in Dallas, but it will certainly do. So if I get sick we'll be visiting the good doctor at his house in University Park. Probably has a gated entrance.

My liver has been hurting me today, I took 2 of the pills he gave me for nausea. It just appears that my liver is getting more tender each day. We'll see what my liver enzymes are this blood test.

David took the large bandage off Wednesday night so you can see the incision. There are little pieces of surgical tape holding the sutures together. It is like the exact same incision as she did last time, nice neat little stitches in an upside down smiley face. This time the port is staying with me.

We go to MCD Texas Oncology tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. to do blood work and start the IVs running. I figure if we're lucky we'll be out by 4:30 to 5:00. I'm hoping to see some improvement immediately once the drugs hit the cancer cells. That may be wishful thinking on my part, but if I had a wish it would be that this would hit the cells with the HER2/neu coating on them lickety-split and start killing that thing.

My hair dresser, Melissa, called today to see what I was doing. It's been about 3 months since I've been to see her. I told her my news and she was just sick. Don't know if I'll go back to her or razor it off myself. It was very hard on her to have to shave my head last time.

Interesting at work now. We have news employees who aren't familiar with all of Chapter 1, so it is all new to them. Some of my jokes that I make about it make them back up because they've never been around somebody this close to see what they go through. I don't want to scare them or gross them out, but I do want them to ask questions and understand that my talk and my writing are coping mechanisms for us. Laughter makes all things bearable.

I spoke to a neighbor tonight on Sandy's walk, and her reaction was, "God is going to cure you." I told her that God may not 'cure' me of this attack on my earthly body. BUT God is going to carry me through every step of the way. We just have to listen for him and trust in his guidance. God still provides.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

8-10-09 Mediport Installation

We had to be at the hospital at 10 a.m. for surgery at 11:30 yesterday. It would have all gone a lot smoother if I had remembered to complete the online health history questionnaire that they told me to do. . . really scary. I haven't had an ounce of chemo and the brain is already scrambled. Of course, David did say NUMEROUS times that there was no need to do a brain scan because I didn't have a brain. That may have been truer that I thought!

Forms completed, an angel named Becky came to get me to get dressed and prepped for the surgery. She is probably about our age. She walked me to the prep area ( I lovingly call it the "cattle holding pen") and told me that she a French courtier glamour gown and some brand new red velvet shoes that were all the rage. Everything she did was caring, upbeat and confidence inspiring. After she got my IV going, she asked if I would like a margarita or strawberry daiquiri. I laughed and Becky told me that she was Baptist and wouldn't know how to make one of those drinks. I told her that we are Baptist, too. So we talked about church for a while. Becky brought me 2 pills for relaxation and stomach settling and about 2 tablespoons of water. She had the saline bag going to plump me up before surgery and went to get David.

Dr. Laidley & Cheryl her RN came be to see us to see if we had any questions. Dr. Laidley was as cute as could be in her long blue skinny doctor's uniform.

There was a man across the room from me behind one of the curtains. He was young and was in to get a rotator cuff surgery. From the time I got in the holding pen, he as asking for his Diet Coke. The second time he asked, I yelled across the room behind our 2 curtains and said, "They won't give you a Diet Coke but maybe they will give you a Sonic strawberry milkshake." He said NO, that he wanted a Diet Coke. Must be an addict on the stuff.

By this time David was back with me and we were talking a little bit, well, David was talking. I was getting really loose and feeling no pain. Becky came by to see me one more time before surgery. I reached up for her hand and thanked God for her loving service and for all the people she has the opportunity to touch each day, just a quick prayer for Becky.

I woke up back in a room where I had to pass the TED test. I had a Sprite, 4 graham cracker packages, 2 saltine crackers. I asked for more Sprite and some soup. They brought me some chicken noodle soup. It was sooooooooooo good! Once I tinkled I was ready to go home. David got the car and drove me home. He made some lunch and I went to bed. and slept until about 6 p.m.

Today I have felt pretty good considering. I think this time was lots easier than last time. I know what's coming and what to expect. Friday I'll have my first chemo treatment later that afternoon. This allows me to go to work and at least work half of the day. I'm taking Abraxane & Herceptin. Herceptin has NO side effects. Abraxane is one of the poison drugs that kill both bad cells and good cells, so we'll be watching my white & red blood count again. I asked Dr. Brooks Friday about taking Emend for the sick feeling that I had the first time. He said that we wouldn't have to worry about that this time. He said that the main side effects of the Abraxane are: hair loss & low blood count.

Dr. Brooks said that when we're finished with the Abraxane, I'll probably be on Herceptin for life because my cancer is coming back with a vengeance. He's hoping that the Herceptin will keep the cancer at bay.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Brushing Your Teeth

The only thing I could do this morning was brush my teeth----and be sure you don't swallow any of the water! But it did feel lots better to get rid of the morning taste. I woke up at 6:55, the alarm was set for 8 a.m. I laid there for 5 minutes and Sandy saw that I was awake and moving around so he came to see about me. So we got up and took our morning walk. Even discovered a way that we can morning walk and not be in the sun!!! That was great. It's been there all along, I just wasn't thinking about it. The walk today was relaxing and cool with a nice breeze. Maybe we're fixing to cool down a little. We do have to says thanks for the rain we've received though. Tony & Elena said it was weird to see green grass everywhere. They are on strict water rationing in Kyle and all the grass is brown. San Antonio is the same way. It rains on the just and unjust, don't know which is which in this situation, but this I do know: God is with you whether you get rain or not. Even if it's a drought in your life, God is holding you in his hands that are full of cool, clear water.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

8-9-09 Up to Bat in the Morning

Tomorrow I get another mediport installed. This one will be with me a l-o-n-g time. I had the first one removed thinking that I wouldn't need it again. Clearly, that wasn't a horse you'd want to bet on. My anesthesiologist called earlier tonight: nothing after midnight, no makeup, no jewelry. I'll be in surgery about 45 minutes. Dr. Laidley and her RN, Cheryl, will do the installation----I know that sounds like they're putting in a new plumbing system, but it's the only word that fits. I'll be in recovery for about an hour. Then I have to stay there until I can pass the TED test: Tinkle----Eat----Drink.

Dr. Laidley (my breast surgeon) is a very precise surgeon. On the first port, one of the radiologists asked me if Dr. Laidley put in my port. Yes, how did you know? They can always tell her work because of the tiny stitches and the little arch she sews it back up with. She is a keeper!