day in the life
the everyday life of a couple living well with a slow-growing cancer.
always easy, and there will certainly be sorrows and losses
along the way. But being alive is good. It is very good.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
this from the small Redmond airport that
services all of Central Oregon. Like an obedient
traveler, I arrived an hour before my flight. There are exactly
two other obedient travelers in the waiting room with me. Good
thing we got here early.
I’m on my way
to a Susan G. Komen For the Cure grantee luncheon at the
Governor’s Hotel in Portland. We (St. Charles Cancer Services)
were awarded Transportation and Community grants, which will
fund some pretty cool things for breast cancer patients in our
region – education, screenings, and gas and lodging assistance
for those traveling some distance to Bend for treatments.
There are close
to 30 people in the Cancer Treatment Center where I work.
There’s the medical side, made up of radiation oncologists,
therapists, nurses, et al … and the Cancer Services side that
facilitates a wide array of support programs and services at no
charge to the patient.
and services are made possible in part by grant funds and by
third party fundraisers (there are some pretty amazing people in
our community who have been touched by cancer and have decided
to do something about it). It is my good fortune to work with an
incredibly caring team that helps
dispense all that goodness to cancer patients.
waiting room is beginning to fill up with
travelers who look as if they slept in 20 minutes longer
than I did. This will be a long day with a return flight this
evening, but I am looking forward to networking with fellow
Komen grantees and celebrating the privilege of being able to
dispense goodness to cancer patients
in our area.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Cancer community – part II
Gary and I
started attending the monthly
DEFEAT Cancer meetings
about two years ago. (I am now on staff in Cancer Services at
St. Charles Medical Center and part of my job is to assist
Dr. Bleyer with the DEFEAT
I remember that
first meeting well. After dinner and the guest speaker, Dr.
Bleyer led a 2-mile walk around the hospital grounds and down a
side street. Gary and I had already done some serious hiking by
that time, but we enjoy any excuse for being outdoors.
As it turned
out, we walked and chatted with a couple who were also fairly
new to the program. She is the survivor; he
is the caregiver. Among other factors, their friendliness
was part of the reason we returned the next month.
Our friendship has grown these past couple
years – we’ve hiked together;
met at Barnes & Noble for conversation over soup and sandwiches;
they’ve been in our home for dinner.
And so the
email I got from my friend this
caught me off guard. Her cancer has
metastasized to her brain.
I am going to
pray and believe for the best for my friend and her husband, but
there is a price to pay for being part of a community … or a
family … or any close-knit group. There’s heartache at the
thought of someone you care for going through any kind of
however, is that belonging in community with its inherent risks
for heart pain far outweighs not belonging.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
hiked the Flatiron Rock trail in the Badlands
east of town yesterday morning. We went with a group
ranging in age from the mid-teens into
60s. Most of us were
there to increase our level of physical activity as we
summit one of the local peaks in
September. All of us are related in one way or another to the
local cancer community.
At the halfway
point of yesterday’s
hike, we climbed Flatiron Rock with
its sweeping views of the Cascade Mountains
and pulled out our lunches.
I counted ten distinct
from our own Mt. Bachelor to
Mt. Hood near Portland.
The nice thing about hiking with a group is
the opportunity to participate in several conversations along
the way –
I chatted with a 16-year-old about
his recent 2-month visit to Africa;
eavesdropped unashamedly on a
conversation between two women who
hiked in and around Bryce
Canyon, Zion National Park and
the Grand Canyon; and learned a little more
about the family and background of a male breast cancer
My take is that the increased physical
activity is a by-product of these hikes. The important piece is
Community is about sharing
experiences. It's about giving and drawing strength and
encouragement from others who are on
path (no pun intended). For us, the connection with our local
cancer community through the
program has been a critical piece of
how we intend to continue living well with cancer.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
When Gary was
first diagnosed, we specifically asked the medical experts about
the roles of exercise and nutrition. We got some pretty
interesting responses. One oncologist said to Gary, “You’re in
good shape … just keep doing what you’re doing.”
favorite came from a urologist: “I’ve heard that lycopene might
be good for prostate cancer and tomatoes have lycopene … so you
might want to try eating more tomatoes.” Gary was really glad to
hear that—“I figured I could just add more tomatoes to my Big
Mac,” he reasoned.
And so we did
some research. We steered clear of the extremes—no week-long
cleansing fasts or coffee enemas for us—and came up with a
simple plan for the nutrition piece. We increased our fruits,
veggies and legumes … switched to whole grains … eliminated
unhealthy fats and sugars … and eat more fish.
exercise, Gary read somewhere that hormone therapy treatments
cause bone density loss, and walking strengthens bones. So he
started walking on weekdays and we took up hiking and
snow-shoeing on weekends.
nearly two years after diagnosis, we stumbled across a local
cancer survivorship program called
DEFEAT Cancer founded by
Dr. Archie Bleyer with an emphasis on nutrition and exercise and living
strong. Seems there’s all this peer-reviewed literature
highlighting the value of moderate physical activity and good
nutrition during and after cancer. And in fact, where exercise
and nutrition are combined, the value is exponentially
Of all the
useless responses we got from our doctors when
we asked about exercise and nutrition, the one that irritated me
the most was: “That’s sort of like closing the barn door after
the horses get out.”
would tell you that healthy eating and exercise, at minimum,
can help build a stronger body to counteract the
side effects of the
treatments. Not to
mention all those endorphins being produced while exercising
that serve as a natural "upper".
a good many cases, it’s not too late
to eat healthier and start moving, so don’t give me any barn
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Homemade soup day
The weather report said snow. I know, I know
... we’re well into April, but this is central
Oregon. And so this morning we opted to hike the river trail
close to town instead of heading up into the mountains.
Sure enough, while we were
walking, fluffy white stuff began to fall from the sky.
Which put me in the mood for making a pot of soup when we got
Gary’s a big fan of chili and since beans are
considered one of the top “super foods” – a food that contains a
relatively high content of nutrients for the amount of calories
– I looked for an easy chili recipe.
I came across one that called
for tomatoes and chunks of yellow squash and modified it to fit
what was in our pantry. We ate it topped with fresh snipped
cilantro and a bit of grated cheese, with
hot cornbread on the side.
Half the fun of
cooking is trying new recipes, and half the fun of
trying new recipes is modifying them to make them a
bit healthier. I’m sure Gary would prefer a meatier
chili, but he gave his stamp of approval on this
one. (Gary went to the school that taught if your
wife tries a new recipe and asks if it’s good, the
correct answer is always "yes".)
So if it’s snowing at your
house in April (we’re probably only talking Alaska and Iceland
here) and you like a hearty soup, you might
want to try this
Turkey Vegetable Chili.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Mice and tumors
about prostate cancer caught our eye because the headline read,
“Exercise may make tumors grow faster.”
The piece reported that “scientists from Duke University in
Durham, North Carolina, believe that exercise might increase the
blood flow to tumors, assisting their growth.”
Immediately I thought of all the
physical activity that Gary does. Do we want to take the chance
that it could cause more harm than
I read further. Apparently there were 50 mice in
the study – all fed the same diet. Half of them had membership
to a gym while the other half were given recliners and remote
controls. They all had very aggressive tumors and weren’t
receiving treatment. “Patients would not find themselves in the
the article pointed out. Well
now, there’s an important sentence buried in paragraph seven.
While the headline is true
according to the research, it’s not complete. It should read,
“Exercise may make tumors grow faster
if you’re a mouse with an untreated aggressive tumor and have
access to exercise equipment.”
One of the challenges of
survivors and caregivers is to sift through all the cancer
information and determine how to apply – or not apply –
it. In this case, we will not be
giving up our hiking anytime soon.
*Published April 14, 2008 in
The Scotsman (Edinburgh)
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Waiting room magazines
We threw a dart at
a long list of doctors and got lucky … but I’m getting ahead of
came from a urologist. With metastatic
prostate cancer, radiation and chemo weren’t options
so we didn’t need to switch to an oncologist for the
prescribed hormone therapy (we did get second and third opinions
on treatment options, including the viability of participating
in a clinical trial).
After two years of
hormone therapy, the local urology guys decided not to negotiate
with our insurance company as
preferred providers. They were the only game
in town. Consequently, it was going to be less expensive
for us to travel to the next nearest preferred provider – 250
miles round trip over the Cascade Mountains – than to pay the
higher rates in town.
Here’s where the
darts come in - we landed on Dr. E at
a urology clinic in Springfield. Turns out, Dr. E was director
of urologic oncology at Yale and held a
prestigious urologic oncology fellowship at
USC. We liked him immediately and he didn’t seem to mind
that I had accompanied Gary into the exam room. (The previous
guy barely acknowledged me and when I asked questions, he always
directed his answers back to Gary. Hello … I’m in the room
Dr. E liked that
we were incorporating more physical activity and nutrition into
our lifestyle and asked if he could refer other patients to our
Web site. Gary’s PSA count went up twice in a row while on
hormone therapy and Dr. E had a Plan “B” and Plan “C.” And
he knew of a clinical trial being conducted at the Oregon Health
& Science University that was showing some promise.
Our most recent appointment was last Monday.
As usual, Dr. E was attentive, positive, encouraging. He asked
if Gary had any complaints and then I told him my complaint:
"Why don't you have more women's magazines in your waiting
room?" (A girl can only read so much of Sports Illustrated and
Newsweek.) He seemed surprised and asked what I'd recommend. I
reassured him that I was only kidding.
Interested in our efforts at living strong with cancer.
Hope-giving. Willing to put more women's
magazines in his waiting room. What more could
you ask for in a physician?!
Friday, April 04, 2008
the Pacific Ocean from our cliff-top room in Newport. The Oregon
coast is one of our favorite places to visit. The sky and sea
are gray and blue this evening and the gulls are circling and
squawking near our window. We just got back from dinner at Mo’s
where I had the world’s best clam chowder and a side order of
Gary – who is much better disciplined than I – ordered salmon
and didn’t complain about me eating dessert in front of him. I
texted our kids to rub it in: “We’re at Mo’s … wish you were
here!” (Did I mention that the cobbler came with
For us, living
with metastatic prostate cancer means driving over the mountains
every four months for a hormone injection (Gary, not me). And
so, in an effort to defy cancer, we make a weekend date of it.
We brought books to read, a knitting project (me, not Gary),
sturdy walking shoes and a football to throw around on the
For if cancer has taught us anything, it’s taught us that
life is made up of a whole bunch of single moments with simple
pleasures thrown in – marionberry cobbler being one of them –
and the present needs to be lived well.
Yes, we have
future goals and dreams and are rather impatient for them to
come about. But mostly we are learning to live in the moment,
grateful for each other and our family … and for the many simple
pleasures of life.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
OK ... here's the first entry on our
newly-created Web site. When
I asked Gary what he thought was the purpose of this blog, he
said it was to highlight the everyday life of a family going
We're aware that
every diagnosis carries a different challenge and that we can
only share our perspective on what it's like to live with a
slow-growing cancer that has metastasized (translated: there is
no proven cure ... yet).
The big picture is
that we have a passion to encourage other survivors and
on this journey, and so we
hope you'll come
back to visit often!