Saturday, November 24, 2007

Coasting into Radiation?

Hello Everyone!

Deb and I went to the surgeon, Dr. Compagnoni on Wednesday. She removed the rest of the steri strips and said the healing is progressing well, except for the range of motion of her left arm. Deb will have to work on that before radiation therapy begins as her left arm will be in the fully extended and raised position for each session. We also learned that five, not three, of the fifteen lymph nodes were cancerous. Deb returns to Dr. C. on December 12th.

Dr. Smoron (can that be correct??) will meet with Deb on November 26th to plan the radiation sessions at Centegra, or if you prefer, NIMC. He is with the Sage Cancer Center there.

Deb will meet again with Dr. Weyburn, the oncologist, on January 10th. Deb will most likely take Tamoxifen after the radiation therapy. Here is the link for Tamoxifen.

Tamoxifen is the oldest of all the SERMs (Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators). Tamoxifen is prescribed for women with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer before and after menopause. While tamoxifen is the hormonal treatment of choice for pre-menopausal women, research suggests that tamoxifen is not quite as effective as the aromatase inhibitors for post-menopausal women.

If Deb is in menopause, she may take a different drug.

Deb plans to return to work next Thursday, November 29th.

We bought a new fake Christmas tree that stands about four feet tall. We couldn't get all the normal Christmas stuff from the crawl space in the basement and drag it up the stairs this year. Deb did a great job decorating it and it looks wonderful on a card table in the living room.

We still belive this is a beatable disease, but the deeper we go into treatment and the longer it goes, we see our feelings change to thinking of our journey as a marathon instead of a sprint. We haven't gotten into the whole percentages thing, knowing as we do, that anyone can be on the short end of survival regardless of the odds.

So we try to stay focused on the goal and remain positive. Our gratitude for all the prayers and love continues unabated. Where would we be without our friends and family? God alone knows.

God Bless everyone and happy Thanksgiving.

Deb and Dan

Friday, November 16, 2007

Being Thankful

Hi everyone,

You know you're in trouble when you remember a time in your life when your shirt had more wrinkles than your face has now. The march of time. And we are just a pencil dot on the fabric of time. Our lives all too brief.

The start of the holiday season always make me think of the end of one year and the start of another. I remember watching a tiny black and white television set when the year changed from 1949 to 1950. I was not yet five, but at a New Years party with my parents and their friends. They probably couldn't get a babysitter. How rare it was for anyone to have a television then.

Our 2007 has been amazing, looking back at it. I had a cancer scare in March, Deb was diagnosed in April, my mom continues in hospice and our little church divided and overcame many obstacles to reopen and start over.

Just when our spirits found a low point, another Spirit touched hearts to send angels to minister to us with food, hugs and prayers.

Deb went to the oncologist yesterday for an exam. She made an appointment with the radiologist to discuss treatment. Our understanding is that she will have around 30 treatments over a six week period.

She is doing very well, considering all she has endured. Her spirits are good, she is more active, with the lone problem area her left arm, which is weak and painful to use.

Deb and I are so very thankful for everyone who has prayed for us and comforted us with phone calls, food and many hugs. My co-employees at Metra and those I report to there, have been especially kind and considerate to me. The Kemper folks have gone to great lengths to show Deb she is more than just an employee, she is a friend. Our friends, family and neighbors have helped in ways too numerable to mention.

This time of year prompts us to be thankful, but remember to tell your mate and children how much you appreciate them for who and what they are to you. Be of good cheer and thank God, from whom all blessings flow.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Another Transition

Hello everyone!

Sunday morning at 7 AM, and everything is quiet. Deb is sleeping and Kathi will go home today. I will go back to work tomorrow. Kathi helped a lot by being here and giving us someone else to talk with other than ourselves. She also be adept at helping with all the little odds and ends that we normally do without realizing how much time they take. Her best asset is that Strider loves her.

Deb is feeling more pain. She is taking Advil every six hours. She finished the antibiotics. She feels pain in her chest and her left arm is very weak and difficult to use, even a little bit. She has exercises to do. One is using her fingers to climb a wall and getting as far up as possible. The other is wax on, was off , in the air. She is frustrated by this, but with all the surgery she should be sore. It will take some time to recover from this.

Looking at the web site illustration, you can see how much is removed in a modified mastectomy.

She will see Dr. Bugno, the radiologist, at some point and that treatment will start. She sees Dr. Weyburn, the oncologist, nest Wednesday.

She is taking showers, but as you can imagine, is shocked by the damage to her body. She visits a prosthetic store this week to get something temporary to even things out in her clothes.

We have been blessed by some of the best food imaginable. Really incredible food! Roast beef, potatoes and carrots; Pork with Au Gratin potatoes and salad, with egg custard for dessert. The best meat loaf, with mashed potatoes and green beans. Chicken casserole, and great Chicken soup with home made noodles, with pumpkin bars for dessert. And bread, lots of bread, which Deb can now taste and enjoy fully. Egg Plant parmigiana and chicken parmigiana, that would do an Italian restaurant proud, with salad and home made sauce. Sweet and sour beef over rice, with pumpkin pie. Wow! Every dinner made and delivered with love, lots of hugs and good cheer. We can never thank everyone enough for this wonderful blessing. Most of the time we think we live in a shallow world, but there are many good people willing to help in any way they can if asked.

I'll update again, but for now, Deb is trying to stay comfortable and heal. She will need a group, I think, for support. We have been blessed with great support and prayers through all of this. God listens to every prayer, so even if you aren't used to talking direct to the Big Guy, just ask him for peace for us and to heal Debbie. He will listen, I know.



Have a good Sunday everyone.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Half Way Home

Hi everyone,

It's 6 am on Thursday. Yesterday went to the doctor to hear the results of the pathology tests on the tissue collected during surgery last Friday. She also had her drain removed.

Dr. Compagnoni told us that 15 lymph nodes had been removed during surgery. Once the first sentinel lymph node was tested in the OR and found to be cancerous, more were removed.

The report indicates that three of the fifteen had disease. This is one of those glass half full or half empty things. It's good because it appears that no real spread of the disease is present, but with any disease in the lymph nodes, there is a chance and a likelihood that cancer cells, microscopic in nature, have migrated elsewhere in the body.

Dr. Compagnoni had spoken already to Dr. Weyburn, the oncologist, and Deb will meet with a radiologist soon to map a series of radiology treatments, lasting perhaps six to seven weeks. She will go once a day, as we understand it, and the side effects should be localized. That is, some burning at the radiation site, but nothing like what she had, and still has from the chemotherapy.

The other interesting piece of news is the pathological report on the tumor. Contained in the breast tissue removed during surgery was a tumor, two centimeters in length, what remained from the six centimeter tumor identified in the original MRI. Six centimeters is the length of my smallest finger from the tip to my palm. Two centimeters. is about 3 /4 of an inch. That is the length, not the volume, of course. Why it wasn't seen by the MRI is a mystery, but it underscores, in my opinion the importance of follow up testing.

The last few days have been a roller coaster for Deb. She has been thrilled with all the phone calls and visits. The e mails to me and to her have lifted us so much. We even have people praying for us that don't normally pray, and can you imagine how God must be pleased with that. I never forget how He uses everything for good. Deb's cancer must seem to most people something without any redeeming quality, but if someone turns to God in prayer, for the first time, or after a long absence, how powerful that is in His sight. What a blessing to Deb.

The dinner brigade has been supplied us with gourmet meals and taken that completely off our minds. The great people in my area at Metra have arranged for food to be delivered to us next week, so our blessings continue. Yesterday, Lori, Dee and Mary, of Deb's monthly dinner group, delivered lunch and kept her company until close to when she left for the doctors. Deb's group at Kemper sent the most beautiful flower arrangement and with it several gift certificates for local restaurants. At the very least, we will no go hungry anytime soon :). What a blessing!

Kathi, my daughter, came in from Michigan yesterday at about noon. She and I had some time to spend together before Deb's doctor's appointment at 4:30pm, so we had lunch at Sweet Tomatoes, and shopped at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. Loni Marik took Deb to the doctors. Deb has been very frightened and close to tears the last few day, concerned and prepared for the worst.

Last night was a relief in most ways, but she had more pain than usual in her chest.

So we continue on with this journey. Our compass direction set, but without really knowing the final destination. The doctors may quibble with this, but I believe that most times the final results of cancer treatment is out of their hands, and they do the things that have a high percentage of success and hope for the best.

Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.
Henry Miller 1891-1980, American Author

Another way to look at cancer and chemo.

My veins are filled, once a week with a Neapolitan carpet cleaner distilled from the Adriatic and I am as bald as an egg. However I still get around and am mean to cats.
John Cheever 1912-1982, American Author

God Bless all of you for your prayers, love, patience, help and friendship.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Progress of sorts

Greetings Campers

Deb was discharged from the hospital about 3:30pm on Saturday. She was very tired and went to bed when we arrived home. She does not have much pain. She takes an Advil four times a day. She is also taking an anti biotic four times a day for five days. She has a drain that collects fluid from her surgery site. I empty that twice a day and record the fluid amount. About 20 ml every 12 hours.

The drain will come out Wednesday and Deb can shower after that. On Wednesday she will visit the doctor to learn about the pathology results on the other tissue samples and what lies in store for her as far as treatment. We pray for good news, of course.

Sunday Deb stayed home while I went to church. After church I fixed eggs and bacon for us. Later Chuck and Loni Marik brought dinner to us, including a wonderful apple pie. Chuck and Loni have arranged with our friends that we will have dinner delivered for the next few days. We've never been so overwhelmed with such kindness. What a blessing!

Deb stayed up all day after I came home from church. She has better color and more energy that I expected she would have so soon after surgery.

Today Strider, the wonder dog, comes home. She has been with Deb's parents since Thursday night. It has been so quiet. Gabby the cat, normally hiding from the dog in the basement, has spent every night sleeping with me and has taken to keeping us company during the day. Alas, back to reality for her today.

I'm spending the week with Deb. Kathi, my eldest, will be here Wednesday through Sunday to help. I'll be back to work next week, with others looking in on Deb, then I'll be off Thanksgiving week.

I'd like to publicly thank several people. First, the doctors and their staffs. Both Dr. Weyburn and Dr. Compagnoni have shown compassion and patience in their approach to Deb and me from the beginning. The wonderful people in the chemotherapy area and the office staff at Dr. Weyburn's have gone above and beyond to make Deb's visits comfortable and to answer any questions. What we have seen from them is more than one could ever expect. We don't know where this is headed yet, but the medical team has done everything they could to beat this disease.

My co-workers have been fantastic for me. There willingness to help and to offer comfort and hope knows no limits. Every one of them have made my load lighter with their smiles and prayers. Who ever said you had to separate church and state :). Mary and Darlene have graciously listened to all my stories. Rick, Sue Ann and Mike have been supportive at every turn.

Deb's work mates at Kemper have been so supportive for her. People she hadn't met before have gone out of their way to offer prayers and support. People have come forward to share their cancer stories with her, giving her hope. Others have taken time since the April diagnosis to visit her and offer concern and support for her recovery. E mails from those no longer at the Long Grove location and phone calls from former employees have lifted her spirits.

Our family, both here and in Michigan, have been there from the start. Their support, calls, love and prayers have cheered Deb considerably and made it easier for her to go on day by day. I can't imagine having a child with cancer, so I can only imagine how Deb's parents must feel.

We will always have a Russian daughter. Masha has had to cope with this from six thousand miles away. Her American mom has cancer and she fells helpless. Her support by e mail and her expression of her love for Deb have kept the emotional bond in place created during her time with us.

Finally our friends. Their support has been remarkable. Loni and Chuck have done so much. John Puleo, Julie and Perry Fish have been there so much for us. The surprise visit from Deb Brinker and Deb McReynolds last week, all the hugs at church. Calls from Pastor Spangler and Jim Van Peursem after the surgery. The dinner brigade. The e mail support from Peggy and Ilona for me. The constant support, love and encouragement on the train ride home from Edwina Vass. The prayers offered by the neighbors. The E cards from Nicky. The counseling with Pastor Tews, that righted our emotional and spiritual ship at a critical time.

So we start another week in this journey. We'll know more about the compass heading after Wednesday. No matter what happens, we know our lives have been made richer by the kindness, love and support of so many people who we can never properly thank for making this time of our life hopeful instead of hopeless.

God Bless every one of you.


Friday, November 2, 2007

No easy victory

What a long day!

We arrived at the hospital promptly at noon. Interviews were taken, noting all the proper information. Blood was drawn and four needles were inserted in the breast to inject a radioactive dye. I left during that procedure. The nurses were pleasant, professional and competent. Dr. Compagnoni arrived about 2:45pm and outlined what would happen in surgery. She thought somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours in surgery and about an hour in recovery would be sufficient.

They took Deb promptly at 3pm, and I started to read the book I brought, Playing for Pizza. Time passed and Deb's parents arrived to keep me company a bit after four. The receptionist advised that Deb was still in surgery, and that it had started at 3:45.

So we became a little concerned at six pm without any real word on the delay. Finally at about 7:10 Dr. Compagnoni met with us. She told us that the frozen section of the sentinel lymph node tested in surgery indicated the presence of some disease. Three other lymph nodes were removed and would be tested by the pathologist. The delay in the start of surgery was because a breathing tube was necessary and it took some time to get it in place.

If all four tissue samples had disease (cancer), then she and the oncologist, Dr. Weyburn, would have to decide what further treatment would be necessary. Perhaps more chemo or radiation. Or both! It will seem like an eternity until Wednesday.

Sentinel Lymph Node Dissection
One of the most talked about new surgical techniques in breast cancer is sentinel
lymph node dissection. This is an alternative to standard axillary lymph node dissection, and many women believe that it can spare them more invasive surgery and side effects. However, the sentinel node procedure is not appropriate for everyone. Recent research shows that even after the sentinel node procedure, more surgery may be necessary. It has its own limitations and drawbacks, and must be done by a surgeon who has significant experience with the technique.
The dictionary defines "sentinel" as a guard, watchdog, or protector. Likewise, the sentinal lymph node is the first node "standing guard" for your breast. In sentinel lymph node dissection, the surgeon looks for the very first lymph node that filters fluid draining away from the area of the breast that contained the breast cancer. If cancer cells are breaking away from the tumor and traveling away from your breast via the lymph system, the sentinel lymph node is more likely than other lymph nodes to contain cancer.
The idea behind sentinel node dissection is this: Instead of removing ten or more lymph nodes and analyzing all of them to look for cancer, remove only the one node that is most likely to have it. If this node is clean, chances are the other nodes have not been affected. In reality, the surgeon usually removes a cluster of two or three nodes—the sentinel node and those closest to it.
Strategic removal of just one or a few key underarm nodes can accurately assess overall lymph node status in women who have relatively small breast cancers (no more than two centimeters) and who have lymph nodes that don't feel abnormal before surgery. Studies have shown that after almost five years, women who had just the sentinel node removed were as likely to be alive and free of cancer as women who had more lymph nodes removed. Longer follow-up will help us better understand the long-term pros and cons of sentinel lymph node dissection

Wednesday, the drain will be removed and she can take a shower. The stitches will dissolve automatically. We will have the results of the pathologist's findings.

We got to see her about 8:30pm. Deb was pale, cold to the touch and got sick after a couple of bites of jello.

Her mom and dad stayed for a few minutes more as I left to come home.

Deb is in room 746. I don't know now if she will be home tomorrow or not. It depends on how she feels.

This isn't necessarily bad news, as we will know more on Wednesday. There is a good chance, according to Dr. Compagnoni, that the other three samples will not have evidence of cancer.

So we thank God that Deb made it through surgery.

Please say a prayer for our friend John Beebe. John is in the hospital with the diagnosis still to come, but artery blockage is mentioned.

I updated this at 3am the first time. Now it's 8:47 am and Virginia at the nursing station just told me Deb is eating breakfast and feeling much better this morning. Woopee!!


Just befor surgery

Hi everyone.

Here we are in a house so quiet we question our hearing. I took Strider to Deb’s parents last night so we’d have a bit less to do this morning. They will keep her until Monday, and then come over to visit Deb and bring dinner! We don’t have to be at the hospital until noon. Surgery at 3pm and I’ll update the blog when I can.

Deb’s doing well this morning. The past week has been filled with phone calls, visits, cards and flowers from friends, co workers and family, all of which has served to remind Deb she is not alone in this struggle. On Halloween we had a surprise visit from Deb Brinker, who grew up down the street from Deb, and last night Deb McReynolds came over to pray with us. It’s in our nature to worry and fret about this stuff, but we know there are a lot of people who are praying for a successful surgery and recovery, and that cheers us a lot.

Loni and Chuck Marik have arranged for friends and fellow COF members to bring dinner to us most of next week. Wow! Deb was afraid I’d actually cook something, I think and cereal would get old after a few days.

I’m sitting here, looking out the window at the frost covered ground. It was below freezing last night. I seem to always think about life and the seasons. Like Sinatra crooned, “It’s a long, long time, from May to September, but the days grow short, when you reach December”. Autumn is a time when the days grow short, and we face the storms and cloudy skies of winter ahead. Life is like that too, but we know when the hour comes we have a place prepared for us.

Deb’s parents will join me at the hospital later. Thanks for all the prayers and love.

God Bless,