Smooth Sailing

The problem with the type of cancer that can be managed-but-not-cured is that you never quite know when to update the masses that the patient is on an upswing and doing well. It’s occurred to me recently that I’m always quick to let everyone know when we’re riding that cancer train, but not always quick to update when the ride has gotten a little smoother.

Time to stop talking in metaphors, I suppose.

Nate is doing well. One and a half years after two very rough liver embolizations, and fifteen months of monthly Sandostatin injections with little to no side effects, I feel like it might finally be safe to say (yikes, is it ever safe to say?) that he’s doing well. The numerous cancerous tumors in his liver have shrunk significantly in size, he’s had an increase in energy, and he’s been active and engaged with life. Fishing? Every chance he gets, no matter the weather. Ice skating? Frequently. Good thing older kiddo is taking lessons and wants to be at the rink as much as humanly possible. Hockey games? Attending whenever he can. Work? Oh, yeah, I guess he’s been doing a lot of that, too. (But who wants to hear about work?)

He’s living. And for that, my friends, we are overcome with gratitude.

Additionally, as of this week, he’s been given official disability status as a veteran from his exposure to burn pits in Kuwait in the 90s, which means we now get financial assistance from the government in managing his cancer. This is exceptionally helpful as every injection (you know, the injections he’ll get monthly for the rest of his life, those injections?) costs $27,000 before insurance is factored in, which means we meet our deductible every year in January. So this turn of events is a welcome one.

Is it the government admitting, “Hey, sorry we’re probably responsible for your cancer?” Or perhaps it’s just their way of saying, “We might have had something to do with this. Oops.” Or maybe it’s, “Damn, this diagnosis sucks and we’re sorry it happened. Thanks for serving your country; we’ve got your back.”

I don’t know. I don’t think we’ll ever know. Regardless of the meaning behind it, the financial help is significant and we are positively, incredibly, overwhelmingly grateful for it. (Did I include enough adverbs there? Writers aren’t supposed to use them, right? Well, I’m really grateful. So there.)

So that’s the update. Nate is doing well. I typed it. Despite my fear of jinxing everything, I put it out there for all to see. Because you’ve all been with us on this journey. And you deserve to know. That bumpy train ride seems to have taken us to a port. And the seas seem fairly calm. Smooth sailing. At least for a while.

Thank you for being here with us, friends. Your love and your support has always kept us going.

How to Make Lemonade

The day after husband’s oncologist used the ‘C’ word at his 4-year followup visit, he got up early to go fishing. (A common occurrence in our household, as our friends and acquaintances know well.) When he returned, he was mumbling to himself as he walked in the front door, but I caught only the tail end of the conversation as he headed through the house and to the shower.

“Just need to figure out how to make lemonade. That’s all.”

But making lemonade isn’t something you do with rotten lemons, and I’ve been pondering his words ever since. So I did something new today. I wrote an essay and submitted it for publication.

An essay.

Me.

I wrote an essay. Something that didn’t involve fictional characters, magic, and dragons.

I haven’t done that since my college days. But today, as my fifteen-year-old slogged through a 500-word essay on The Scarlet Letter (which, for the record, she hated, and let’s be real, who doesn’t?), I, too, tapped away at the computer keys, crafting a story of all we’ve been through in the past four years since Nate’s initial cancer diagnosis. Before I knew it, I had almost 1600 words of love, fear, support, uncertainty – pretty much everything that sums up life with a secondary cancer diagnosis in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.

Maybe it will go nowhere. Maybe it doesn’t need to go anywhere. Maybe I just needed to write it.

But I hope it’s accepted somewhere that will reach thousands of people, not because I want recognition, but because if my words can somehow help others who are also struggling through dark times, then I’ve succeeded in making lemonade out of some pretty nasty lemons. And that’s something.

A Year in the Life

It’s a very good day. An important day. An anniversary.

No, not a wedding anniversary, or a dating anniversary, or a birthday.

Today marks one year since my husband had a drain tube pulled after six months of complications from surgery to remove a cancerous tumor that invaded his pancreas.

One year.

The difference between this year and last is almost beyond comprehension. Last year at this time, it was a struggle to try to feel merry. We had Christmas lights on the house only because our neighbor was quick to climb on the roof to help. Our tree? That was because my parents were sweet enough to drive an hour to haul it in and put it up so we could decorate it. And the general atmosphere around here? While we were so very thankful for husband’s treatment and his doctors, we were still uncertain of the immediate future. Not that anyone can ever be certain of the future, but you don’t realize how much you take for granted until you’re steeped in worry every second of every day.

This year? This year he’s been caught whistling Christmas carols behind the bathroom door as he gets ready in the morning. The lights on the house were up a day after Thanksgiving. He’s giddy at the prospect of presents on Christmas morning. I’ve come home to find Christmas music playing in his home office as he works. He couldn’t wait to help me address the Christmas cards. He was excited to get the tree, put it up, and wrap the presents that went beneath it. In fact, this might be the first year that he wanted to be involved in seeing all the gifts before they were wrapped instead of settling just for knowing what was bought.

This is a man who has fully embraced the holiday and the feeling of family. So happy Winter Solstice! I’ll take 12/21/18 over 12/21/17 any day, for as grateful as I am for this day last year, I’m a million times more grateful for every moment we’ve had since.

Happy Holidays, all!

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See this? That’s a list of how many trips we made to Philadelphia for either a replacement tube or a drain check. The CVIR team at Thomas Jefferson knew us well. (And they are AMAZING.)

The Value of One Year

Can you measure the worth of a year? How do you set the price? In dollars? In euros? In pesos? Can you put a price on it at all?

When you get a cancer diagnosis, you find out just how much your time with loved ones is really worth, and just how much more of that time you want. One year ago, we found out.

One year ago, my husband was diagnosed with a rare type of pancreatic cancer. One year ago, the doctors saved his life.

And mine.

If you want to know the value of a year, ask anyone who has faced this kind of diagnosis or worse. We were lucky. His was only a stage 1B. Prognosis is good. Our future is optimistic.

But that doesn’t stop me from asking ‘What if?’ a hundred-thousand times a day. What if things had been different?

So if you want to know what a year is truly worth, spend an afternoon with a cancer survivor and ask them to share their experience. And never take for granted another year, another day, another minute, again.

June 5, 2017 changed our lives forever. I have felt a level of gratitude every day of this past year greater than I could ever have imagined. If you want to know the value of one year, simply ask yourself, “What if?”

Storms full page program ad for Dance Centers
The ad we placed in this year’s dance program.