Monday, December 21, 2015

A Beautiful Life

My visits to Cancer Treatment Center of America have become fairly routine.  My husband and I follow my schedule, going from floor to floor, clinic to clinic for my various appointments.  This visit was a little different.  I left my husband at home and took my mom.  Actually, she took me.  During my darkest times this year, my mom came over nearly every afternoon to help care for me, relieving my husband so he could work and do necessary errands.  She shared the duties with two lovely friends of mine.  When I ended up as an inpatient at CTCA in March, my mom and stepdad traveled to GA to see me.  My mom didn’t get to see much of the treatment center because she stayed with me in my hospital room. (Sometimes, despite our age, we just want our moms)  I really wanted her to meet the people who’ve helped me so much at CTCA and who spoil me with kindness and love.

We headed out bright and early in the morning with our sights set on Georgia.  We were so excited, we gabbed the whole trip about nothing and everything, giggling like little girls.  When we finally arrived, we unloaded the car and checked ourselves in.  We unpacked then made a quick trip to a couple nearby stores before dinner.  As soon as we walked into the café at CTCA, I spotted our friend, Jeannie.  She welcomed us with a smile and a hug. 
Soon we got more hugs from our other café friends, Alexis and Beverly.  After enjoying our meal we joined the others who were gathering to play Bingo.  Many people volunteer at the center to provide activities for patients and caregivers such as Bingo, art classes, craft making, etc.  It wasn’t long before my mom was yelling, “Bingo!” and picking out her prize from the donated gifts on the prize table.  We played again and she yelled “Bingo!” again.  I was so happy for her.  We played some more and then again she was yelling, “Bingo!”  This time my happy face turned into a scowl.  Seriously?  I was afraid we’d need to request security to walk us out (ha-ha).  Her prizes were piling up on our table.  After that, she finally let some others win and we all had fun.  We even discovered the ladies sitting next to us live about 25 miles from us!  What a small world!  After Bingo and meeting new friends, we headed out barely able to carry my mom’s loot!  We were dropping stuff and laughing so hard we were snorting.  Back at our room, we got ready for bed and lay down for the night.

The following day was my appointments.  We woke up and went to the café for breakfast, again seeing more familiar faces.  While I was standing in line, my chiropractor came in and saw me.  He came over to say hello in case he didn’t get to see me this visit.  I told him he was on my schedule in just a couple hours.  He said he’d just go back to his office then and practice until I got there.  When we finished our breakfast we went to the second floor for my follow up appointment at 9:00 with my wound care nurse.  She hugged me, happy to see me and was quite pleased with the progress she saw.  Then we were on our way to see my chiropractor.  He made necessary adjustments and discussed my progress and gave me some additional exercises to do each day to provide more mobility to my right arm.  10:45 nurse assessment next with my friends in Pulmonary.  Without my husband to direct me in the quickest way to get to the fourth floor clinic, I had to stop and think for a minute.  As I was thinking, up walks my friend from housekeeping, Commie.  She was showing a new employee around but took five minutes to walk us to the elevator that would open up in the fourth floor lobby – right where I needed to be in about one minute!  In pulmonary, a tech took my vitals then my nurse came in to hug me and ask all her usual questions.  Then right on schedule at 11:00 my pulmonary doctor came in.  Hugs again, then I introduced my mom.  After removing my Pleurx catheter last month the doctor wanted to do an ultrasound during this visit to see how much fluid had accumulated.  He asked my mom if she wanted to look at the screen.  He described what she was seeing: my lung, diaphragm, liver and the fluid…”Wow!” he said.  The fluid had diminished to about 10cc instead of increasing!  There was only a little bit of fluid there.  Not even enough to drain.  My doctor was pleasantly surprised. (Thank You, Lord!!)  (Happy dance!!)  We said our goodbyes then headed downstairs.  My next appointment was a lab draw on the first floor at 12:30.  That meant I had just enough time to grab something to eat.
  We saw Yolanda getting some potatoes to take back to her room.  Yolanda is having radiation treatments and has been at CTCA since October, I think.  She said she wasn’t feeling the greatest and potatoes was about all she could eat right then.  She was a little nauseous, tired and wasn’t able to taste her food due to her treatments.  I was glad to see her smiling and walking around.  She was doing her best to overcome.  After I ate we walked to the Peach clinic and checked in for my lab draw.  They called me back quickly and the nurse got all the blood he needed effortlessly.  Afterwards, we had almost an hour before my next appointment so we grabbed a drink from the coffee shop and sat in the gallery watching people and relaxing.  My next appointment was at 2:00 in the Magnolia clinic.  I checked in a little early and was taken back within five minutes.  Dee weighed me first then took my vitals as she always does.  The scale showed I’ve gained 40 pounds since my first appointment at the end of March.  Fantastic progress!  My mom and I are taken to a room where I wait to see my PEC team.  Right on schedule at 2:30 my oncologist, nurse and PA come in.  We all hug and I’m thrilled to see my nurse looking great!  She has been undergoing treatment at CTCA for cancer, herself.  She is beaming with joy and I have to get a picture with her!
My doctor is happy to hear how well I’m feeling and to meet my mom.  We discuss various issues and he gives me some homework.  He conducts his own survey and asks how we feel he is doing as my doctor.  I appreciate that he asks this directly.  He has a quiet confidence and authority that I value.  I can’t imagine being more pleased with his care for me.  He gives the term “health-care” the meaning it should truly have.  Next my naturopathic doctor came in at 3:00.  Another hug!  She reviews my labs and other info then asks some questions.  She makes some adjustments to my supplements then leaves us with a smile.  At 3:30 my dietician walks in and I get another hug.  We discuss my labs, which she says look wonderful, and my diet then she answers some questions I have.  After our appointment ends she takes us to see my personal scheduler, Alethia.  She is a cut up and we all giggle as she adds future appointments to my schedule, per my doctor’s orders.  From her office, we head for my 4:30 appointment in Infusion and wait in the lobby for me to get my hormone therapy.  One woman is lying on a couch covered up and sleeping while another woman is talking on her phone and crying.  I’m reminded of where I was health wise not that many months ago and how fortunate I am to be where I am now.  Eventually my nurse asks if I’m ready.  I endure the injection that seems to go on and on.  Finally I get a Band-Aid and I’m done.  It’s a little after 5:00 now.  We go down to the first floor straight to the café.  We look around to see what we should eat and I spot Yolanda again.  I ask if she’s feeling any better than she was at lunch.  No.  But she is still sporting a smile and positive attitude.  She’s getting some food to take up to her room again so she can rest.  As I’m standing next to her a CTCA employee walks up behind Yolanda and puts a fuzzy, colorful blanket over her shoulders.  Yolanda’s smile grows brighter as the woman tells her she made it especially for her.  Another example of true “health-care”.  As we sit at our table eating, Mark, the music therapist, stops by to remind us of Drum Circle at 6:30.

I tell him we plan to be there then he introduces us to his friend (a patient) who is personally associated with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  Mark and his friend tell us about their concert they recently attended and show us some video of the concert.  We finish eating and make a quick stop at our room before heading off to Drum Circle.  There are about 15 people in attendance tonight.  We all grab instruments to play.

No experience required.  We have a special guest, Dean, who’s just a little guy with lots of energy.  He makes us all laugh.
My mom decided to color while the rest of us made loud racket, but we all laughed and enjoyed ourselves.

Some shared a little about their experience at CTCA while I wiped away tears at hearing their stories.  One woman I met and talked with afterward lives in Sanford, a city near my hometown.  She said she’s scheduled for brain surgery Monday (today).  Again, I reflected on my own situation, grateful I haven’t had to endure such a thing.  After a long day of appointments, we call it a day and go to our room for the night.  The next morning, as we prepared to leave for home, We bump into Yolanda again.  She is passing out little gifts to CTCA employees and other people she knows.  I said to her that she looked like she was finally feeling better.  She said she was still struggling.  We encouraged her and gave her a hug as we left. 

As we traveled back home to Florida, I thought of our visit.  We enjoyed meeting many new people and we were encouraged by many others.  So many little joys had added up to make a delightful trip despite where we were and why we were there.  I thought of Yolanda.  Even though she had not been feeling well, she refused to let it overcome her.  She persisted in spreading love and joy.  All these things reminded me of a card I keep that my grandparents sent me many months ago.  This is what it says:

Having a beautiful life isn’t so much about getting that one big thing
or reaching that one great goal.
Having a beautiful life is more about
seeing the wonder in the little things,
the everyday things that life washes onto your shore.
Gathering them like pearls,
stringing them together,
And realizing what a treasure you’ve collected.
Do that, and you cannot help but have a beautiful life…
The one you are meant to live.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Schedule Change!

As I write this, I’m traveling home from my most recent 4 day/3 night retreat at the Cancer Fighter Resort (AKA Cancer Treatment Center of America – Newnan, GA).  I’m relaxed, refreshed and full of joy!  Sometimes, my neatly organized schedule gets abruptly rearranged during my visit and it happened this time too.

    CTCA front entrance

During my previous trip, my pulmonary doctor was pleased to hear that my breathing was getting easier.  I told him I didn’t feel like fluid surrounding my left lung (if there was any remaining) was hindering my breathing any more.  He told me he would remove my Pleurx Catheter if I could go until my next visit without having to drain.  He scheduled me for surgery in anticipation that that would be the case.  When he saw me in his office this time, he did an ultrasound and saw only a small amount of fluid.  Then, he gave me two options.  The first was to follow through with surgery the next morning, as scheduled or he could pull the catheter right there in his office with no numbing meds so I could have the entire next day free of appointments (the whole day had been set aside for surgery and recovery).  I hesitantly agreed to have him pull it right then.  It was quick and the pain was tolerable.  No tears.  No surgery.  Free day tomorrow!!  I was ecstatic at this schedule change!  The Pleurx had been the last of my cancer “accessories”. 

Fluid I drained several months ago using my Pleurx. Ewww, it's foamy!

The following day, I went to a craft class, and then a worship service at the chapel on site, had a music therapy session, attended a cooking demonstration and played Bingo after dinner.  I met several new people and enjoyed talking with them and hearing their stories.  The next day was the rest of my appointments.  All my doctors were pleased with my continued progress and my blood work looked fantastic, they said.



My music therapist and I stole their guns and made them be in picture with us!

Later that evening I attended Drum Circle.  Drum Circle has many purposes.  It helps patients and caregivers to relax, connect with others, release stress, etc.  We beat on drums, shake tambourines and sing among other things.  This time was extra special though.  After many people left, a few of us lagged behind and chatted.  One woman asked if we would be her “live” audience as she tried to recite from memory, a poem she’d written.  She had been practicing alone, trying to memorize it because at the beginning of the year she is supposed to share it with her church family.  I had not met this woman before drum circle.  But I could tell we had some things in common.  She looked like me – short hair (beginning to grow back), petite, smiling.  She said she was nervous, as she rose and stood before us.  As she spoke, her voice echoed some of my deepest feelings.  Her poem, “Woman under Construction”, painted the picture of her trials through cancer and God’s refining love transforming her in the process.  The longer she spoke, the more I could not control the tears streaming down my cheeks.  I’ve found it difficult to accurately describe some of my physical conditions and emotions during my own fight to non-cancer patients.  But this woman knew exactly.  Her poem, a monologue of her conversation with God lasted five minutes.  She had it memorized but spoke straight from her heart.  We all congratulated and encouraged her.  As I spoke to her personally afterwards, I found we had much more in common – our faith, our love for exercise and health, we are close in age, both have children and we both finished chemo around the same time.  She is currently having daily radiation treatments.  She has been at CTCA since October (I think) and won’t finish until mid-December.  Please keep Esther in your prayers when you remember me.  She blessed me greatly!! 

God has placed me in a great family at CTCA in GA.  I’m always excited about going!  Isn’t that strange?!  Employees and patients, both are warm and caring.  From the valet, to the housekeepers, to cooks, doctors, to security – they all ask what they can do to help, if we need anything and how we are.  I guess I could keep to myself while I’m there, but I’d be missing out on so much.

My housekeeping friend.  She has remembered my name since April! She always greets us with a huge smile and a "How you doin'?" and leaves us with a hug.

I asked my husband to take my picture with this sign.  CTCA is definitely a refuge area for paitents and caregivers too!

Wall sign leading to two places I go to every visit...Infusion (previously for chemo and now hormone therapy) and Wound Care to follow up with my wound care peeps, Beth and Stephanie.

Thank you for your prayers.  Thank you for your smiles.  Thank you for your hugs.  Thank you for your support.  Thank you for your encouragement.  I thank God that you love me so well.  I love you back!

Still fighting.  Still VICTORIOUS!