My cancer journey with help from family and my guardian angel

I felt totally alone for the moment. I thought of my mother Catherine, and asked for her help to ge

Cancer Cannot

One of my favorite passages of scripture is Psalm 139—the one which reminds us that we are “fear

My Renewal of Faith Through Ovarian Cancer

July 2002 was a very hot month.I hadn’t been feeling well, but I just couldn’t tell what was cau

 

Damn Weeds

January 26, 2009 in Home Page, Keeping Up Your Spirits, Physician's Thoughts by Laurie McCarthy

January 26, 2009

“Look at all those beautiful little white flowers,” I said to my wife. “I don’t remember seeing them there before.”

In the neglected ten-by-thirty foot corner of our garden, a crop of white flowers began to emerge toward the end of the summer.

“You never saw them because they are weeds,” my wife said.

“What do you mean…weeds?” I asked. “They are beautiful!”

“Weeds aren’t always ugly, but even the pretty ones grow fast enough to choke out the other flowers,” my wife reminded me.

“But they are growing so well there.”

“That’s what weeds do—they get in while you are not looking and take over everything.”

“Don’t you even think about going out and pulling those weeds,” I growled. “I will do it myself…damn weeds.”

My wife’s recently diagnosed leukemia had weakened her immune system. She spent most of the summer in bed—recovering from the fatigue of the disease and the nausea of the treatment.

And somehow, while I was taking care of everybody’s cancer, leukemia had crept into my home and attacked my wife’s body. For months, I had missed the telltale signs of fatigue and malaise, chalking them up to day-to-day stresses of motherhood. When the diagnosis came, she crumbled; and I went into survival mode. I watched as my wife struggled to climb the stairs like a sick person, stopping halfway to a landing. I saw as they started an IV and observed the red blood cell transfusion dripping into her veins easing her fatigue. I rubbed her back when she threw up the life sustaining pills that were just too big to get down. And I put her to bed and cuddled her, like I did with the children, to ease her fear. I couldn’t do anything real except simply be there. And just when things seem to improve, a simple walk in the yard led to a simple scrape on the shin which led to a complicated skin infection (cellulitis to those of us in the know) which led to several doctor visits, and threats of hospitalization.

“I wasn’t planning to do any work in the garden. I’ve learned my lesson. But what am I supposed to do? Sit in the house all day?” she asked.

“No, but you must protect yourself, wears gloves, and long pants when you go out for this sort of thing. Life has changed for us, and I can’t afford to have you in the hospital because you are too selfish to give up gardening or too stubborn to wear gloves!” I grumbled.

“Well I don’t need to have you hollering at me in my own back garden.” She turned and headed for the house.

I remained…and looked at this impenetrable hedge of pretty little white flowers which grew as tall as me. And I began to pull. And I tore at the earth ripping out every lost opportunity. And I reaped a harvest of the pain of the possibility of my daughters’ weddings without a mother-of-the-bride. And I clawed at the anger of the chance of going to my girls’ graduations alone. And I scratched and groveled at the ground pulling and tearing weeds half crazed with a mission to reclaim this little corner of the garden. Dirt flew into my hair and clothes and mouth. And sweat stained my clothes and streaked my face. My eyes burned with salt and dirt and my flesh tore from unseen pickers. And my quiet whimpers grew into audible sobs and heaves until I was startled by my 10-year old.

“Are you okay dad?” she asked.

“Yeah. I‘m fine.I lied.

“Are you crying?”

“No,” I cried.

“It looks like you are crying.”

“Allergies…damn weeds.”

“It sounded like you are crying.”

“Dads don’t cry. They get allergies.”

“Do you need a hug?”

She always knew when I needed a hug. “I think I do.”

My tiny little 10-year old jumped into my arms and hugged me closely to her.

“Ouch, my neck,” I hollered.

“Love hurts, Dad.” She giggled as she ran back to her tree house vanishing as quickly as she had appeared.

When I looked up, I had thrashed through the entire bank of weeds. My wife’s accounting background allowed us to quantify gardening performed by the number of green trash bags filled. I had 16. It was more than that though. The irony had not escaped me. I had managed to protect and preserve just a little corner of my life which had been taken over by some outside uninvited monster. A once impenetrable scourge of weeds were untimely ripped and tossed away in a neat row of bulging green trash bags.

And when I was done, the once beautiful white flowered hedge was barren and desolate. It looked far better before I had taken out my anger on it. Now a wasteland plowed under at the end of the growing season, the little corner held the promise of a better next year without god damned weeds choking everything out.

My wife returned as if on cue. “Look there,” I said proudly. “Sixteen bags.”

“What are you doing? I was going to have it bulldozed,” she said.

“But you loose the English ivy that away.”

“You do know that garden is loaded with poison ivy.”

“Great,” I muttered. “I’ll take a shower.”

“Damn poison ivy.”

Dr. Rick Boulay

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by rick

The Mayo Jar

October 16, 2008 in Home Page, Keeping Up Your Spirits, Patient's Journey, Women's Cancers by rick

October 16, 2008

You might ask me, “What about this mayo jar?What are you talking about?What does a mayo jar have to do with cancer?”

All it took was one phone call.My phone rang early on a Friday morning.When does a doctor ever call you personally—really?“You have cancer!”Speechless, I could not respond.I could not hear.His statement sent me into a trance and changed my life forever.How do you tell your family the “C” word?

From the gynecologist to the oncologist and many appointments later, I was operated on for uterine cancer.The hospital nurse told me you have something we want—you do not want to keep it. That helped put my situation in perspective.

I truly believe knowledge is power.I armed myself with information by reading medical, spiritual, and motivational books and magazines.In my reading travels, I read a story about a mayo jar.The suggestion was to find a quote that has meaning to you—one that lifts your spirits.Put the quote in a clean, empty mayo jar.Continue adding quotes, thoughts, and sayings from greeting cards.When you are having a bad day, reach into that mayo jar and pull out a quote.Just a few words of encouragement or friendship from the mayo jar helped me through the day and always brought a smile to my face.My mayo jar was soon overflowing.

Of course, I have my favorite quotes.This quote—which I have memorized and can recite to myself at any given moment—came from a picture hanging on the wall in the oncologist’s examining room:“In the secret garden, the flowers bloomed and bloomed, and in the morning revealed new beauty”.Another of my favorite quotes is “A book is a patient teacher and a quiet friend”.

During my cancer journey, I kept a daily journal which contained my feelings, my improvements, my appointments, my medication, and everything that I felt was needed for me to survive the day.A friend told me to only cry in the shower—that way no one will ever see you crying.The suggestion didn’t work.I cried inside and outside of the shower but that was OK.

Those cancer days, weeks, months were difficult.I had complications with bleeding after my surgery which lead to a second surgery.One of my biggest hurdles was to get from a lying position to a sitting position to a walking position.My muscles were cut and sewn back together making the task very slow and difficult.My pain was always at a peak—there were no valleys.I would look in the bathroom mirror and say “Who is this person?I do not know you”.I could not measure my recovery in days…only in weeks.Each Sunday, I would ask myself how I improved from last Sunday.The improvements were subtle, but they were there.I was sure to note the improvements and my feelings in my journal.

After many months of healing, I returned to work.The same day I noticed a rash.Back to the doctor—now I had shingles.What are shingles anyway?I had heard the term but truly did not know.The doctor said shingles—adult chicken pox—are caused by physical, emotional, and psychological stress.Unfortunately, I had all three.The pain was unbearable—as bad as my two operations.I was out of work for several more weeks.

Now I am turning my journal into a book.Yes, I decided to write a book.The title is “December to December” and tells my tale of medical events between December 2002 and December 2003.I do not mind if the book never sells.It is just a vehicle for me to release my feelings about my cancer situation.I must admit there were a few funny moments—not too many—just a few.Laughter is the best medicine so I decided to include those moments in my book.I feel a need to document the good times as well as the bad times; but really, there is nothing funny about cancer.My loving husband, children, and sisters will be able to read the book and reflect on the cancer journey that they took with me.I may never know if the book will help others.

My faith in God, my wonderful doctor, and my outstanding family were truly the only way I made it through the cancer journey.Prayers go up—blessings come down.There is no such thing as coincidence.God lead me to read the article about the mayo jar and helped me fill my own mayo jar and my life with inspiration to move on.

I had a happy ending—I am five years cancer free.My mayo jar gave me hope and peace.

Why not start your own mayo jar?

Beaty Christoff

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by joshua

A Question of Faith

August 11, 2008 in Physician's Thoughts, Physician's Thoughts on Faith, Role of Faith, The Role of Faith by joshua


August 11, 2008

I believe the role that God plays in our lives is often magnified during times of great suffering. How we perceive that role is a question of faith, often strong and steadfast in some, especially my patients, but sometimes unreliable and inconvenient to others, like myself, on a journey of understanding and acceptance.

During the terminal stages of my grandmother’s colon cancer, I recall her saying, “Je pense que le Bon Dieu ma oublier.” Despite high school and college French, I never was able to pick up my grandmother’s French Canadian dialect.

“She thinks God forgot her,” my dad translated.

I was puzzled. My grandmother was a pillar of the church. Educated in a rural convent, she left Quebec with my grandfather and together they helped build the new Catholic Church and school where my grandmother taught first graders and sang solos at Midnight Mass. She learned English predominantly through romance novels—the margins annotated with dictionary definitions of unfamiliar English words. I loved everything about her.

“So how could Grand Maman think God forgot her,” I wondered aloud.

“He didn’t,” my father reassured.“God’s just busy getting heaven ready for her. Your Grand Maman is very tired. She needs to rest.” I failed then to understand that she never felt abandoned by God, merely that He was tardy in calling her home.

Marie recovered from surgery beautifully. Preoperatively, she assured me (as well as herself) that Jesus would lead her through. And He did. But despite her strong belief that her large mass was benign, I extracted several pounds of cancer from her abdomen. Marie required no blood transfusion, and her enormous incision closed easily. Uncomplaining, she transcended the pain, indignity, and betrayal of unanticipated bodily functions. She was discharged the following Sunday, a day early.

During her hospitalization, Marie’s bible lay on her bedside table. Unlike most hospital bibles, this one was actually open—its pages somewhat tattered, with notes scattered in the margins. Marie’s bible was a “working” bible… for this was not Marie’s first bout with cancer.

Ten years earlier, at 32, she was treated for breast cancer—a difficult and protracted battle through chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, and countless days of nausea and fatigue. But others did unto Marie and her family. And God saw her through it. The notes in the margins bore witness to that.

This time Marie’s chemotherapy began well. Despite pumping powerful chemicals directly into her abdomen, she experienced none of the nausea that so debilitated her a decade earlier. But when the subsequent chemotherapy was abandoned because of an infection, she worried. “I remember last time how important it is to get your chemo on time,” she recalled. “Won’t this decrease my chances?”

Before I could reassure her, Marie smiled, “No matter, God will look after me.”

The role God plays in our lives can be powerful. Whether we pray to live completely or die comfortably, the supplications continue until our prayers are answered. Yet, how do we know if we’ve actually changed the outcome or coincidently selected destiny’s preplanned course? We can never know. Yet we continue to believe.

As an adult, I’ve had an on again/off again relationship with God. Describing myself as more spiritual than religious, I felt that introspection and “doing the right thing” somehow absolved me from the need to participate in organized religion.

A frequent witness to the power of faith, I am back at church, having relinquished Catholicism for the whitewashed simplicity of Presbyterianism. Unfortunately, my grandmother’s faith gene appears to be recessive, but her music gene has proven dominant and I, too, sing solos at church on Christmas Eve. Unlike Marie and Grand Maman, with decades of religious study and a faith that provides the very backbone of their existence, I still dabble and I have yet to crack a bible.

Suspended between healthy scientific agnosticism and unyielding faith, I’m selective with my prayers. I fix what I can myself and reserve my praying for the tough stuff—not day-to-day trivialities, least He become tired of my pettiness and turn a deaf ear to that one, last, really big need. When I pray, I pray for others, especially my patients. I’ve always had everything I needed and most of what I wanted…except for Marie’s and Grand Maman’s faith–the force strong enough to bring life or death…the force powerful enough to bring hope to the weary and peace to the anguished. Maybe I should pray for some of that.

Dr. Rick Boulay

 

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by rick

Listen to Your Body

May 29, 2008 in Keeping Up Your Spirits, Ovarian Cancer, Patient's Journey, Women's Cancers by rick

 

 

May 23, 2008

I’m tentatively “dipping” my toes, attempting to plunge into discussing me, a task I’m finding more difficult than I imagined. I have always been a private person, not to insinuate any shyness or introversion, but my feelings and emotions had always been held tight—to me. But now, my life has changed—so instantly, earth-shatteringly at the moment. I feel my voice can be important, along with all the others diagnosed with cancer. To eradicate something takes action and directed positive energies. I want to be a part of that force.

I have never considered myself a vain person, however, staying in shape, walking daily, eating healthily was just a normal regiment for me. And then in June 2007, I was in the ER at LVH with severe abdominal pains. I was told the CT scan revealed acute diverticulitis. I had had a recent clear colonoscopy so I was surprised, notwithstanding my diet that had always been fiber rich. My gastroenterologist prescribed the “antibiotic cure”, and I followed it. Pains continued—different antibiotics again prescribed—none was working. But I pursued because I KNEW my body. Listen to that wonderful, intuitive voice that whispers to you alone—something is not right! It took 3 more CT scans. I also requested an endoscopy and had a vaginal ultrasound. My point being, don’t ever ignore or diminish your opinion.

At first, sitting in the surgeon’s conference room, I heard little of what he was actually saying—peritoneal cancer. Thank goodness my wonderful daughter-in-law was taking copious notes. It felt surreal to me. I was sitting there stunned, angry, incredulous—an amalgam of emotions when all I had heard was I NEVER had diverticulitis.

Recovering from the surgery, I did a lot of soul searching. I realized to waste my time and energy blaming others and asking “why me?” would only be fruitless and unproductive. I was blessed in being directed to an amazing, caring surgeon.

And now, today, as I write is another new day for me, another chapter to add to my life. Now I want my energy to be directed to all that is positive in my life. I realize things that mattered “before” don’t matter anymore. My bracelet says “Say it, Fight it, Cure it” and that’s what we are going to do. I’ve always been a glass half-full person; I’m not changing now.

I’ll be back……Judy

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by rick

Cancer–My Journey Too

May 29, 2008 in Daughter's Point of View, Keeping Up Your Spirits, My Mom Has Cancer, Ovarian Cancer, Parent with Cancer, Women's Cancers by rick

May 21, 2008

On December 7, 2000, I left for school on what seemed to be an ordinary day. Little did I know, when I returned home, my life was never going to be the same. One minute I was a happy 15-year old, president of the student council and chorus at school, whose biggest worry was figuring out who I would sit with at lunch.

When I received the news that my Mom was diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer that day, I was devastated. Given only a 20% survival rate, I was instantly overwhelmed with confusion, fear, and shock. Despite her frightening prognosis, a major surgery, and 3 recurrences, my Mom has been successful in her battle with cancer. It’s this victory that has restored my faith that people cannot only survive from cancer, but can thrive.

My name is Jessie, and I am a 22-year old graduate of Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. I’m so excited to be starting this blog because it’s giving me the chance to do something that I’ve always wanted to do. As you might imagine, watching my Mom deal with cancer for 7 years, my family and I have gone through a multitude of experiences. Some have been good, some have been bad, and some just seem to make no sense at all. The bottom line is I understand what cancer can do to a family. I realize that the more knowledge we acquire about the illness and its effects on our relationships the easier it will be to continue enjoying our lives.

This brings me to the goal of my blog; sharing my story. It’s my hope that my experiences will provide insight about how to cope when someone close to you is diagnosed with cancer. Whether you need some tips for how to deal, ideas for how to help, or a story with which you can relate, I’m here. I’ll do my best to share new thoughts periodically. Feel free to post comments, ask questions, or simply say hi. I’m looking forward to this journey we’re about to begin.

Until next time…