Tuesday, February 23, 2010
September 10, 2009 was the day a doctor walked into a consultation room and informed me and Tommyís sister that he had pancreatic cancer. He told us he probably had about six to twelve months left. The news was shocking and devastating. I couldnít imagine life without my husband.
I had been laid off from my job of fifteen years in May and then learned in July that Tommy was going to be laid off in October. We had thought things were about as bad as they could get, until the news of his pancreatic cancer. Hope was running out. Now, more than five months later, things are looking better for us.
Tommy will have his last radiation appointment today. After that he has a few more chemo treatments scheduled and then heíll be finished with his treatments. Heíll have another PET scan in a few months and weíre hopeful that it will be as positive as the last two heís had. Far from what I initially expected would be the situation by now, we went mountain hiking together Sunday at Pilot Mountain. The weather was beautiful and it was good to be back out. While we didnít hike all the way to the top, I was impressed with the distance we went before he decided to turn around. His determination is amazing and his positive outlook is contagious. We feel like we actually have hope now and are making plans for the future.
I also started a new job last Monday and am very excited about it. I am now a new magistrate for the county I live in and the job is so interesting. There is much to learn, but I feel so fortunate to have been selected for this position. Iím now working days, but move to second shift beginning next week and will eventually move to the third shift when my training is complete. Iím so excited about this because I love having my days free and can be available if Tommy needs me to go with him to appointments. This will also mean I can do early morning hikes avoiding the summer heat, so Iím really looking forward to spring to summer.
We are hopeful that 2010 will be a much better year for us than 2009.
Sunday, December 06, 2009
Whew! Since my last entry almost two months ago, so much has happened. I feel like I've been away from SP for even longer than the two months it has been. We've been so busy that my healthy eating lifestyle and exercise schedule has mostly vanished from my life. Now I've gained some weight back and I feel horrible, so I'm making time for myself from this day forward to get back on track and get in some hiking and other exercise.
Tommy and I continue to take one day at a time and work toward his recovery while spending quality time together also. The results of his PET scan was very good. Dr. Shearer (his oncologist) said that the only area that appeared brighter on the scan was the original surgical area. While she could not promise us that there was no cancer there, she feels that what it may have been showing was inflammation remaining from the whipple procedure. The best news was that there was no indication of the cancer having spread to any other areas of his body. With 2/3's of his lymph nodes removed having cancer cells in them, we were afraid the cancer had already spread, but this doesn't appear to be the case. I was very excited when I heard this, while Tommy was cautiously optimistic. He said he'd be more excited after the next PET scan if it still shows no spread. I think he's still thinking about the doctors' words of caution that pancreatic cancer tends to recur.
Tommy began his chemo treatments 5 weeks ago. He has his chemo once a week (Mondays) for three weeks and then has a week off to allow his body to recover and let his blood count build back up. Incredibly, he has had absolutely no side effects. Prior to them beginning, they gave us prescriptions to fill for nausea, which we did. As of today, he hasn't taken the first pill because he hasn't been sick. When he went back last Monday, he had even gained some weight (all that Thanksgiving food). He hasn't even lost any hair, at least not from the chemo :)
Everyone who sees him is amazed because he looks so healthy and says he feels better than he's felt in a long time.
He'll have another treatment tomorrow and then next Monday, then he'll have the week of Christmas off again. He'll then have another PET scan before resuming his chemo. He'll then also begin his radiation treatments. He'll go every day, Monday through Friday, for 5 1/2 weeks (28 treatments). We're hoping and praying that the results of his next PET scan are as positive as the last one.
With Tommy feeling so good, we've had plenty of time to enjoy ourselves. In the last month we've taken a trip to the mountains and a trip to Myrtle Beach and went to the race in Martinsville, VA (the picture is Tommy at the race). My sister and her husband (they live in Florida) also came up to stay with us over Thanksgiving. It was so nice to just have fun and get our minds off of his illness. He is much more upbeat now than he was a couple of months ago and now believes he has a chance to be cured. I just try to continue to support him and keep him feeling positive.
Now we're looking forward to Christmas and spending time with family and friends. We also continue to make our plans for the future because I intend to have him around for a very long time.
Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Has it only been a month? It seems like so much longer. Itís so hard to believe how much the lives of everyone in my family has changed in one month. One month ago today, September 10th, we learned that Tommy has pancreatic cancer. Since that time, everything in our lives have changed.
Before that day, we were worried about baby Maddie, who sadly passed away on September 6th. We were worried about finding new jobs. Now we worry about saving Tommyís life. The last month has been a roller coaster of emotions. We try to stay positive and focus on the tidbits of good news we get from his doctors, and we try to ignore the negative. Iíve learned more about cancer than I ever wanted to know in my life, but knowledge is power.
I canít know exactly what Tommy is thinking or feeling because Iíve never walked in his shoes. I often look at him and wonder whatís going through his mind. Sometimes I ask, but he usually just avoids the question. I feel like Iím caught in a whirlwind that I canít escape. At times I want to run and get in my car, start driving, and just keep on going. That would be the easiest way; to run away from everything. But then I look at my husband. I still want to grow old with him. I love him more than Iíve ever loved any man in my life. I know I could never walk, or run, away from him. I know he would be there for me if the situation was reversed. I know he needs me now more than heís ever needed me in his life. This is simply our life right now and we have to work with the hand we were dealt.
In a previous blog I said that I had realized that cancer is more a personal thing than a family thing, that I could not fight Tommyís battle for him, but rather only be there to encourage and comfort him. I couldnít have been more wrong. While itís true that this is ultimately Tommyís fight, cancer does affect the entire family. I have to fight also, just in a very different way. Iíve realized that Tommy is not only fighting cancer; he is now also fighting sadness and depression. My husband who has always been easygoing and carefree, happy and positive, now spends much of his time lost in his own thoughts. While I cannot know for sure what those thoughts are, and he doesnít seem ready yet to share many of his thoughts, his facial expressions reveal worry and sadness. My fight to keep my husband alive involves arming myself with as much information as possible, asking questions of his doctors, making sure he has everything he needs to help in his fight, getting him to and from his appointments, making sure he eats to keep his weight from continuing to drop, encouraging him to exercise to maintain muscle mass, and supporting him emotionally as best I can and try to keep his attitude positive.
On the rare occasions when he does open up and talk with me about his thoughts, he reassures me that he is ready to fight for a cure. But then at other times he often seems to have accepted just the opposite fate. He will occasionally start talking to me about being safe when Iím hiking in the future, never including himself. He wants to give mini lessons on the weed eater, leaf blower, riding mower, cleaning the furnace filter, checking the oil in my car, etc. Itís as though he is trying to prepare me for his absence.
Family and friends that we havenít seen in years now stop by to visit with him, but they look at him in a different way. Not sure what to say to him, but wanting to help and encourage him, they try to smile and tell him heís going to get better. But the look in their eyes deceives them and itís obvious they donít truly believe their own words. The first few days after his diagnosis, everyone was telling him he could beat this thing and they reminded him that Patrick Swayze was still alive after being diagnosed with this. Then, the day of Tommyís Whipple procedure, Patrick Swayze passed away. Nobody talks about Patrick Swayze anymore, except Tommy.
The hardest thing about cancer, other than the possibility of losing someone you love, is that it is there every minute of every day. When you go to a fall festival, it is still there. When you go walk through a park, it is still there. When you get together for your grandchildís birthday party, it is still there. No matter what you do or where you are, it is always lurking somewhere in the back of your mind. There is no escape. Two of my sisters and their husbands are coming for Thanksgiving, and I canít help but wonder if weíll all be together again next year. The doctors tell you to go and enjoy your lives together, but truly having fun becomes so much more difficult when youíve been given a 1% chance of survival.
The last month has been incredibly busy with doctor appointments, and still more to come. We spent yesterday visiting his surgeon for a follow-up and then had to go to Forsyth Medical Center for a pre-anesthesia visit. Tommyís surgeon will be putting in a port-a-cath on Monday morning. This is a small device that is placed just under the skin in his chest that is connected to a large vein. This will remain in him and be used by his oncologist to administer his chemo treatments. We expect that will start either the end of this month or early next month. Tommy will have chemo every week for about 8 weeks, then he will begin receiving radiation (along with the chemo) for about a month. After the radiation is finished, he will continue chemo for about another month. It is a very aggressive treatment plan, but then pancreatic cancer is a very aggressive cancer, so this is really his only hope. With two thirds of the lymph nodes they removed having cancerous cells in them, anything less would probably be useless. He will also be having a PET scan of his entire body next week. This will document the changes to his anatomy from the Whipple procedure and reveal the presence of any other cancer in his body. This makes me very nervous, but it is necessary.
So here we are, one month later. When we were making our plans for the future, this was definitely not part of them. Nevertheless, this is what we have to deal with. We will continue to take it one day at a time and pray for the best outcome possible.
Thanks so much for all the kind words of support.
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