Thursday, November 10, 2011
Tommy and Thor on their golf cart.
Most people have a lot of friends, all of which are an important part of our lives. Friends come in many forms including different races, religions, nationalities, gender, and so on. And sometimes they’re even a different species. There is a lot to be said for the old saying about a dog being a man’s (or woman’s) best friend.
My husband, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September 2009, was never what I considered an animal lover. It wasn’t that he didn’t like animals, rather he just didn’t care about them one way or the other. His parents never allowed animals in their home when he was a child, unlike the home I grew up in where we always had dogs, birds, hamsters, turtles and fish. Our pets were an important part of our lives and were greatly loved and cared for. So it made me both mad and sad when Tommy and I married and he then proclaimed that he would “never live in a dog house.” It was really the only thing we ever argued over, and because our marriage was otherwise happy and strong, I gave up my idea of having a dog deciding it really wasn’t worth the fight.
Then in March 2007 my 20 year old son, who had been living in an apartment, decided he wanted to come back home and go back to school (yes, reality had set in for him). All was fine until he informed us that he had just that week acquired a sickly, three-legged, red Doberman pinscher. He wanted to bring “Thor” home with him. After a lot of “discussing” this with Tommy, he finally agreed that Jeremy could bring the dog home, but he would have to build him a lot out back because the dog was not living in our house. So, Jeremy came home with all of his belongings and a skinny, sick dog. He built him a dog lot and bought him a dog house his first day home. We immediately took the dog to the vet and they treated him for a severe case of hookworms and he got all of his shots and a full check-up.
Thor was one of the friendliest and sweetest dogs I’d ever met and I immediately fell in love with him. He then began to work his magic on Tommy also, something I had previously thought was an impossible task. Yes, I began to see Thor breaking down that tough exterior of Tommy’s and working his way right into his heart. Then one afternoon, within one week of Thor’s arrival, Tommy brought him inside the house making sure to tell us it was only for a few hours because the weather was so bad outside. His new outdoor dog house was quickly replaced by two indoor dog beds. Thor never slept outside again.
After Tommy’s diagnosis of cancer, it became more important than ever for him to get some exercise every day. He began taking Thor on daily walks that they both seemed to really enjoy. On the occasional days when he felt too tired to walk very far, he would ride his golf cart around the property and eventually taught Thor how to sit on the cart and ride with him (this has become one of Thor’s favorite things). The bond between the two of them was growing. They were becoming best buds. When I would go to work in the evenings, Tommy would always have his buddy with him for company. I watched the transformation of my husband from the tough guy “he’s just a dumb dog” attitude to a much gentler person that would often cater to Thor’s desires. WOW, I was in awe. Thor was able to do what I was not.
Then about six weeks ago, I noticed two lumps on Thor, one on each of his back legs, that were quickly increasing in size. I showed them to my daughter-in-law, who is a vet tech, and she immediately loaded me and Thor into her vehicle and took him in for a biopsy. We received the bad news that they were cancerous tumors. Because he was already missing a front leg, amputation was not an option. He was scheduled for surgery and the lumps were removed two weeks ago (his stitches were removed this morning). He has healed well, but one of the lumps was in a bad spot and they were unable to get clean margins on it, so it will surely return. The vet hopes that the removal of the tumors will give Thor a couple more good years.
I now wonder if this is the reason Thor was brought into our lives. Thor was able to win Tommy over, become his best buddy, keep him exercising, and now they are both fighting for their lives against the same disease. Could this really be a coincidence? I don’t think so.
Tommy's pancreatic cancer has now spread to his lungs and his doctor has told him she cannot cure it, only try to slow it down. Just a few nights ago Tommy was laying on the couch watching TV and Thor was in his bed. He began to talk to me about how great our last 17 years together have been and how he wished we could have 17 more together. Thor immediately got up off his bed, walked over and laid down on the hard wood floor in front of Tommy as if he was coming to comfort him. Tommy reached down and began petting him and saying, “ You’re such a good boy, and you’re not just a dog, you’re part of our family. You’re just like every other family member.” I watched in awe, knowing that this was a moment between the two of them and I was just a spectator. They were two best friends facing the same challenges and uncertain futures and I was not a part of that. Even though Thor doesn’t understand his illness as we do, he seems to be very connected to Tommy’s emotions and they have brought much happiness to each other’s lives.
I sat on my front porch the next morning and watched Tommy and Thor walk away from our yard and down the road, a man and his dog, his best friend. I was happy that they had become best friends, but I was also suddenly struck with a harsh reality. I knew that on this morning they would come walking back to me shortly, but sometime in the not so distant future, they will both almost certainly leave me forever. I felt a little wave of panic knowing that I cannot hold onto them forever. Only God knows how long I have left with them, so I will try to make sure we all enjoy whatever time we have left together.
I believe our pets are a gift from God and they bring so much happiness into our lives. What Thor has done for Tommy, and all of our family, is living proof of that. Love your pets and care for them.
Friday, June 03, 2011
Most days I feel like I'm sitting in a car racing down the highway at 100 miles per hour with nobody at the wheel. My life is spinning wildly out of control and that is something that's difficult for me to deal with. I've always been, or at least felt like I was, in complete control of my life. But for the last two years, I have felt helpless; I mainly stand on the sideline now and watch as everything progresses beyond my control. In the last two years both Tommy and I lost our jobs when our employers shut down, I watched my sister lose her 18 month old granddaughter, Maddie, to Leigh's Disease, and Tommy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the day Maddie was being buried.
And now, I feel more helpless and more afraid than I've ever felt in my life. Tommy's latest needle biopsy on his lung confirmed what he has been saying all along. His pancreatic cancer has metastasized to both lungs. His oncologist is a wonderful doctor, but also very honest. Surgery is not an option. She is offering him a new regimen of three chemo drugs, one that is sure to have numerous side effects. She made it clear that this is not a cure but rather palliative care that will hopefully slow the progression giving him more time and a better quality of life. I'm not sure how you get a better quality of life with all the side effects they talked about, but hopefully his will be minimal so he can still go and do some of the things he loves. He begins this treatment on June 20.
Since the day he was first diagnosed in 2009, everything in our lives has changed. We’ve learned to live one day at a time and to try and find some happiness every day. We now plan all activities, vacations, lunch with friends or family, everything, around his appointments. As hard as we try to put it out of our minds, PC is ALWAYS there. When you go on vacation, for a walk in the park, to visit friends, or anywhere, this PC is always there in the back of your mind. I see it in the eyes of friends and family every time they look at Tommy. There is a sadness just below the surface that they can't hide.
Tommy has opened up more to share his fears with me. His biggest fear is not the possibility of losing this battle, but the possibility that his young grandchildren won’t remember him. He also says he worries about leaving me alone, worries about what this is doing to his parents’ health, and worries about finances. This in turn causes me additional worry because I don’t want him under more stress. Yet, I’ve also seen a strength in my husband that I never knew he had. He is a true fighter and refused to give up when he was initially told he had 6 to 12 months. He has bounced back from every obstacle thrown at him thus far and never complained. He has vowed to fight until he can't fight anymore and I have promised to be there with him.
We're going on vacation next week and will spend 10 days in the southwest. He's always loved watching the rafters going down the Rio Grande; this time, we've made arrangements to be in a raft. We're taking him to all of his favorite places and we'll do our very best to put PC out of our minds during vacation; it won't be easy.
If there is any good to be found in all of this, it would be that our already wonderful marriage has become even stronger. We’ve learned to lean on each other and share of fears, concerns, and joys every day. We've learned that it's okay to laugh and to cry. We’ve learned that life is too short to take even one single day for granted. We’ve learned to say I love you more than ever, not only to each other, but to all our family members and friends. We’ve learned there are no guarantees in life for anyone. Our priorities have completely changed. We no longer worry about the material things in life; instead we work on happy memories.
I wish I could spend more time on SP, but right now I spend most of my days off work with Tommy. There is so much we want to do and so little time.
I love all of you for the amazing words of support you've given me over the last few years. Thank you.
Friday, March 18, 2011
Life has been pretty good lately; busy, but good. But it seems like every time we begin to get comfortable, life throws us a curve. Yesterday was one of those days.
Tommy has been feeling so well lately that we were pretty convinced that the three small nodules in his lungs must be something benign and not metastatic cancer. He went for his PET scan on Monday and yesterday we went back to his oncologist. The results were definitely not what we wanted to hear.
The largest nodule (the one they tried unsuccessfully to biopsy in December) has now doubled in size (about 2cm), has now taken on an oblong shape and now appears "mildly hot" on the scan. In addition, Dr. Shearer said that more tiny nodules have now developed in his lungs. None of these are good signs.
He had such a bad experience when they attempted to do a needle biopsy of the largest nodule in December (extremely painful and lung collapsed) that he swore they would never do that to him again. Dr. Shearer, however, was able to convince him that this was much to important to ignore and that she had to be sure what it was before she could decide how to proceed. So, he goes back to the hospital next Tuesday so they can try again to biopsy the large nodule. We'll then go back to see Dr. Shearer next Friday to find out the results.
We are nervous. It looks like the chain of events with this pancreatic cancer is unfolding exactly as his surgeon said they would in September 2009. I'm so afraid that this will come back as adenocarcinoma and that will immediately put him in Stage IV pancreatic cancer. We've already been told that if it is metastasis, that surgery is not an option at this point.
Just trying to stay busy for now and hoping and praying for good results.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
A wise friend once told me the best way to avoid stress was to stay busy because then your mind doesn't have time to dwell on your problems. I guess she was right as it seems to be working for me and for Tommy.
It's been a while since I've added a blog. Since the last one, Tommy has had a biopsy (kind of) and a PET scan. When trying to do the biopsy, his lung began to collapse and the doctor had to stop, unsure of whether he even had enough tissue to test. As it turns out, they are still uncertain as to what the spots are in his lungs. They did not find any cancer in the biopsy (great news), but don't know that they had the tissue they really needed. He will have another scan next month to see if there are any changes in these nodules. If there are, he told his oncologist they can put him back on chemo if necessary, but he said he would never allow them to do another biopsy. He had to be awake through the 45 minute process because he had to hold his breath every time they moved the needle and said it was the most painful thing he's ever been through. So, now we just wait until the next scan. That has been our life for the last year; living from scan to scan. Worrying about the next results. Afraid to make too many plans for the future. The stress can be almost unbearable at times.
Three weeks ago one of my sons moved into his own place. Yippee!!! Not that I don't love him dearly, but I've really been wanting that bedroom for a place to put my computer desk and exercise equipment. Finally, here was my chance to clean the carpet, paint the walls and get it fixed up the way I wanted it. So, I blew the dust off my carpet cleaning machine, filled it with water and cleaning solution and went to work. A few hours later I stood back and looked at my clean, old, worn out carpet. Oh no, I expected it to look so much better. It was clean, but still showing its age. Maybe I should consider new carpet now? As I stood fussing in the bedroom doorway, Tommy came to see what was the matter. I happened to mention that the old hardwood floors under the carpet might even look better. Tommy's reaction was only, "Are you kidding me? Are there really hardwood floors under this carpet?" You see, he had no way of knowing this as I already had this house when we got married, so he'd never seen what was lying underneath the carpet. He ran into the room and started pulling the carpet up in the corner. Yep, underneath that carpet was old oak hardwood floors and, except for the heavy coat of varnish that had turned a lovely shade of orange, they were in pretty good shape. To make a long story short, my house is now a mess. The carpet has been ripped up from my living room and two bedrooms and the furniture from those rooms now line our back hall, and we won't even mention the impossible task of trying to make your way through my kitchen and dining room. The painting has begun in all the rooms, Tommy is busy pulling up carpet tack strips and filling small holes along the baseboards previously drilled for TV cables. He has already found someone who has given us a great price to come and sand all the floors and refinish them when we're ready.
Yep, everything is a huge mess, but I think this is the happiest I've seen Tommy since his cancer diagnosis in 2009. I guess that's because he's busy doing something he is excited about instead of sitting and worrying about that next scan. I guess I need to keep him busy with projects from now on (smaller ones of course).
Oh yes, there's only one problem. Thor (our doberman) apparently doesn't share our enthusiasm for hardwood floors. He actually stood there crying on the hard floor when Tommy first pulled the carpet up in living room. He's beginning to adjust, but only with the aid of his oversized cushion to lay on.
One more added bonus - I'm staying busy so it's much easier to not nibble on foods I don't need and I'm moving almost constantly, so this is actually helping me with my weight loss.
Now I'm up to get back to work.
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