Saturday, October 19, 2013
I've always been a big promoter of these qualities. I think the world would be a better place if people were kinder, if they could put themselves in someone else's place and imagine what THAT would be like, they would be more compassionate.
Because Du has terminal cancer (terminal is a hard word to type--I never say it!), we have been experiencing much kindness and compassion in the world, and it comes from the obvious places, and sometimes, the not-so-expected places!
We are just back from the Cancer Treatment Center of America (CTCA) near Chicago. The kindness begins when you are greeted at the airport by the Limo Driver. Yes, CTCA sends a limo back and forth to the airport many times each and every day, for the one-hour drive to Zion, IL, where they are located. On our trip there, our plane was delayed getting out, for about half an hour due to thunderstorms. When we got to the baggage claim area where we were to look for a person with a CTCA sign, no one was there. But they had supplied a phone number to call, and when they answered, she said, "We were wondering what had happened to you guys. We'll send your driver right over." Immediately you feel like they care! And in less than 15 minutes, the limo driver arrived. When we got into the limo, there were four other people inside. Cora and Charlie, a nice couple, sat on one side of us. Cora has stage 3 kidney cancer and this was her 3rd visit to CTCA. Jill, and her sister LeeAnn, sat on the other side of us. Jill has stage 3 breast cancer and has been to CTCA four times. It's amazing what you can find out about a person in one short hour. Jill is divorced and likes the San Francisco 49ers, but is not a fan of the Seattle Seahawks, because her ex-husband loves them. She & her sister are from Utah. Charlie & Cora are from Texas, Cora is a retired policewoman. She said she became a policewoman back in the 70's, there were no other women doing the job then and she blazed the trail for the many to follow. She is so courageous, not sure I could have done that. Now she is fighting a different kind of battle. Cora & Charlie are from Texas and love the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Almost everyone at the CTCA has someone with them. I bought one of the blue rubber/plastic support bracelets (blue is for prostate cancer), and have worn it since we first went to CTCA last April. On the bracelet are the words, "No One Fights Alone." At CTCA, everyone has a name tag, you wear it all the time, it gives you access to the hospital and at mealtimes, the food is free (up to a specific limit) if you are wearing your name tag! The only information on your tag is your first and last name and then either a "P" for Patient, or a "C" for Caregiver. Sometimes when I see a couple I try to figure out which one has cancer if it's not obvious. (The "C" and "P" on the name tags are hard to see at any distance.) There are a lot of bald heads there, some wear hats or scarves, some wear wigs and some go natural. There are also lots of canes and wheelchairs. But it is NOT a sad place. You feel the love of life that pervades the atmosphere everywhere. In the hospital entryway are three huge trees on the walls, a tree is CTCA's symbol, comprised of small gold "leafs" with a person's name and their hometown engraved upon each one. If a person survives five years after being diagnosed with cancer, a real tree is planted in their honor at a park across the street in a annual tree-planting ceremony, and the survivor also gets a "leaf" on the tree inside the hospital too. That is my goal for Du--that we plant a tree there in 4.5 more years. Since the average life expectancy at CTCA for someone diagnosed with Stage 4 Prostate Cancer is only 4.5 years, it is pushing it to ask for 5 years, but I'm hoping for it. After all, it's only an average.
There are a few people who are there by themselves. CTCA will pay the airfare for the patient, but after the initial analysis visit, the caregiver is responsible for their own airfare on return visits. It cost over $400 for me to fly with Du, for only a 2-day stay. Their hotel, which was built by the hospital, is wonderful and very reasonable--only $40/night! It features huge rooms, sleep-number beds, a fridge and a microwave, and an amazing basement recreation area, with a very cool old juke box, books, DVD's, puzzles and games, along with a piano and big screen TV, as well as a snack area, well stocked with healthy food: oatmeal, fruit, juices, milk, cereal, cookies---only Lorna Doones and Fig Newtons--which unfortunately have always been favorites of mine. They are individual 100-calorie packs of course, but I can eat as lot of those darned packs. The food in the cafeteria is extremely healthy as well, but tasty. They use organic fruits and vegetables, and also non-cured meats, the Boar's Head brand. I'm going to have to see if I can find some of that. It's all turkey-based, the ham, the bacon, the sausage that are especially popular at breakfast. The hamburgers are made from ground steak. Even the cooks and kitchen workers are nice at CTCA!
I like the phrase on my bracelet, "No One Fights Alone." Even though it might seem silly to spend $400+ for such a short trip, it was important that I go, important to Du, and important to me. I needed to be there for support, to hear what the tests and scans showed. That was scary! Thank goodness, it was good news. The treatment is working the way it is supposed to be, and the cancer is stable/unchanged in his bones. Unfortunately the treatment (monthly and tri-monthly shots, and one cancer drug, along with lots of health supplements and a changed eating style) is usually only effective for 18 months or so. That's the norm. It's already been 7 months. So I'm not sure what our visit next April will bring. But for now----it's status quo---and for us that was very good news.
I have vowed that Du will never feel alone as he fights this awful beast. Even if it's in the middle of the night, if he is sick, puking, or has a clogged catheter, I will be there for him. As much as I regret retiring (only because of the health insurance) last Jan., I am thankful I do not have to go to work anymore. I devote myself to him mostly, and he is embracing the extra care and love I show.
It was a relief to know that his coughing was not cancer. On the scans, his lungs are clear. Cora, with the kidney cancer, has two spots on her lungs. Since Du's cancer has not spread any more in his hips, the pain he has there, is probably due to the shots, which ironically are partly to strengthen his bones. He has gained some weight, they say that is from the hormone drugs in his shots. So we are going to quit eating so much red meat and try to eat more fruit, and I will try to get him out to walk with me. He is so tired after working all day though, that will be hard. He gets a lot of exercise there and it really wears him out.
Everyone at CTCA is so wonderful--The clerks, the nurses, the doctors, and especially the other patients. You see so much sickness there, but it's like a huge club. Everyone there either has cancer, or is taking care of a loved one who has cancer. It's not a club you WANT to join, but once you're in it, it's a very tight brotherhood! Friendliness abounds, people who don't know each other talk in the hallway and waiting rooms and in the elevator, and are friendly in situations that are so difficult, yet because we all feel this invisible unbreakable bond, we can empathize and LOVE is everywhere! Yesterday I stopped at my bank to cash a check. I conversed with the teller about an advertised Root Beer Float party they were holding later in the day. She looked at me a little weirdly because I was very talkative and very friendly. "Oops," I thought. "I'm not at CTCA anymore."
Last Tue. morning, on Facebook, I wrote a short post about our apprehension over the scan results, and my middle son also asked for prayers for his dad & mom in a separate post he made on Facebook. What a response! As an old woman, I don't have that many FB friends, most of my friends are my kid's friends. Not many people my age embrace FB the way I have. I love to post pictures of my grandkids on FB. I know it's probably not safe, but I do love to brag about those gorgeous kids! Well Brady had many many likes and comments on his post, and so did I. Over 75 people "liked" my post. I later wrote that the results were good and included a brief description of our journey, as some had asked, what kind of cancer we were dealing with:
"It is Stage Four Prostate Cancer that has spread to his bones. PSA tests were misleading for several years, deceptively low, which led to a late diagnosis. No cure now--only treatment. We are doing everything we can to buy some extra time!! Eating right, drugs, supplements, monthly shots! Also trying to enjoy every moment together and time spent with family and friends. Time becomes a very precious commodity. Thanks for all the comments and 'likes,' Duane reads them all and they mean a lot to my non-Facebook husband. And to me."
Even though Du is not on FB, he LOVES to read the posts and comments and see who "liked" my posts. So I share everything with him. There is a young man who used to bowl with my son when they were in high school. They were on the bowing team and we traveled each weekend to towns throughout the state to bowl in competitions. It was a wonderful time of our lives, and Duane was very active with the boys, serving as assistant coach. When the coach could not be there, which was often, as his kids were active in other sports, Du was head coach. This young man who messaged me is now in his first year of Med School, he was always very polite, and worked harder than anyone else on the team. We are FB friends, and sometimes play games of Words with Friends. He always beats me. This is what he wrote:
"Hey Pam! I just wanted to send a message to Duane before I forget, and that is, thanks so much for being an awesome bowling coach. I can still remember us bowling so well when Kevin couldn't coach. It was an honor and privilege to have met such an amazing guy. I wish I was in Lincoln to personally say hello, and hopefully I still can be in this next year when I go back home, but just wanted to say thank you, and God bless your family :). You guys have always been so amazing to me and I'm glad I've gotten to know so much about the entire Holmes family throughout the years!!"
So unexpected, but so appreciated!
Last night two of my grandkids came out to spend the evening. Their parents used our Husker Volleyball tickets. Du was just too exhausted after working all day to go to the game last night....plus it was on TV. When they got here, Duncan, my 7-year old DGS, told his Grandpa he was going to pray for him. He went back in the kitchen, and sat down at his place at the table. I had made chili for Du & I (with ground chicken---not sure about that?), but knew the kids would not like that, so I had fixed them a frozen pizza. Duncan was all alone at the table, the pizza wasn't even out of the oven yet, and that little guy bowed his head and put his hands together. "God is great, God is good, and we thank him for this food. And God, please don't let my Grandpa die from cancer."
Duncan spoke very quietly, and Du was still in the family room, and I'm sure didn't hear him. I haven't told Duane what Duncan did yet. For one thing, I can't talk about it without crying. I walked over and gave Duncan a big hug and a kiss, which he barely tolerated and thanked him. When his parents got here later, I told them what Duncan had done and of course, I cried. Isn't Duncan a wonderful, thoughtful, caring little boy? I think so too!!
And I can not forget all my Spark friends, the best, most supportive people in the world. I have appreciated so much your comments, suggestions and support as I pour my heart out on this blog. Thank you all!!
Kindness and compassion are everywhere as we fight this battle of our lives. We both are so grateful to the world for showing us what a wonderful place it really can be.