Friday, December 2, 2016

Day 37 ...

G'day folks!

Day 37 and counting ...

It's easy to think of all the things I have missed in these past five {unexpected} weeks ... like my family (the kids have not been able to visit anywhere near as frequently as their Papa); the Fall color change (my favorite time of year), which started the week I entered the hospital; Thanksgiving celebrations & dinners, not that I didn't give thanks!; eating; two tooth losses (one each kid!); seeing friends (I had to curb visitors for a number of reasons); swim meets; the great outdoors ... I could go on...

But instead I will think of what I have gained. Victory! I have battled rectal cancer this year and as far as I am concerned, have WON! No more treatments (though plenty of check-ups to come!) I have grown sympathy, empathy, and compassion. You may not believe it, but I was a little short on those. I was a "Suck it in, get over it, and get on with life" kinda person. I am not kidding! I understand now that pain, hurt, and disease can be invisible, and easily masked. I have gained an extraordinary new and heightened appreciation for my husband as he has worked hard to hold all things together, including himself, as he has watched me endure these past weeks. I have gained a new appreciation for food - even if I can't eat much yet - and ways to prepare it (thanks Food Network!) I am eager to get back in the kitchen, and share the space (which I didn't much before) with a daughter who tells me cooking and baking is {one of} her passions. I have seen my kids grow in compassion, courage, love, and faith.

So, as for me and my progress... I had surgery two weeks ago to fix an adhesion {blockage} in my small intestine (about 12 inches removed) and reorganize my bowel. I also endured two more goes with the NG tube in the past two weeks. Well, I am pleased to report that the plumbing is now consistently {and continually} flowing south, four days now! I no longer have an NG tube (hallelujah!) nor any other tubes on my face! I am down to one IV connection (from as many as five) which should be removed tomorrow, which means I am eating {tentatively} again! My stomach is the size of a walnut after not eating for 5 weeks, so I have some reconditioning to do. I walked the hallway without a walker today for the first time, but have a very long road ahead by way of rebuilding my muscles and strength.

Heading home soon.

Anyway, my brain is plain wore out. Evening shadows have fallen, and there's a soppy chick-flick on Hallmark Channel waiting to entertain me.

Thanks for continued love & support & prayers!

By God's grace,


Look, no tubes! Dec 2, 2016.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving indeed!

So it's Thanksgiving and I can't eat? ... So what! I'm not hungry anyway! I'm full of IV liquid "turkey and trimmings", including liquid "cream pie" for dessert!

But I sure have MUCH to be THANKFUL for!!

I am thankful that the God of love is carrying me through this medical trial, and giving me strength, endurance, peace, even humor! If I stop wanting my desires, He will be able to complete His healing in me! I give in, go for it Great Physician!

I'll come back to medical stuff but I have to next give thanks for my family & friends.

I am so grateful for, and blessed by, my husband, Matt. He's so full of love and faithful to care for the needs of his family above self. Exhausted, but driven by love & concern for me. I can't express how much I love and admire Matt. God give him strength, endurance, and restful rest each day.

I am blessed to be the Mother of Kaeden, a sweet, and sensitive young man of undiscovered potential, trying to find his place in this world, and his identity, through imagination, music, faith activities, life-experiences, academic challenges, and the noise of life. Lord, quiet the distractions and guide his path that he might clearly be identified as a child and friend of God.

I am blessed to be the Mother of fiercely independent, self-driven, yet tender-hearted, and compassionate Tyya. She has a heart for God, a talent for swimming, and a passion for cooking and baking. She is sweeter than pie. God, grow Tyya's heart for you and grant me the wisdom to recognize and nurture her gifts, talents and passions.

I am thankful for extended family; for my parents & siblings - loving, praying for, and encouraging me from afar.

I am thankful for my mother-in-law - selflessly helping to take care of the kids and Matt in my extended absence and the love she demonstrates by doing such. For making Thanksgiving dinner and letting the kids help & learn!

I am thankful for my sibs-in-law ready to help at a moments notice, praying fervently in the meantime.

I am thankful for my friends, church families, and prayer warriors (local & world-wide) for taking time out of their already busy lives and heaping love, prayers, well wishes, gifts, encouragement, cards, letters, texts, meals, transport, care packages, play dates, cheerleading, lawn mowing ... !! Oh how you have blessed, loved, and inspired me and my family!

I am thankful for our beautiful dog Biskit who must be wondering what happened to her pack leader who vanished a month ago... aknd waits faithfully for her return.

I am thankful for a world-class hospital and for the world-class medical care it provides; for an army of angels dressed as nursing and personal care staff - filled with care & compassion; for skilled doctors and specialists, willing to admit they sometimes don't know what the problem is but are trying to figure it out!

I am thankful for alert & lucid consciousness, personal awareness, curiosity, self-education, self-advocacy, pain, comfort, rest. For medications & the knowledge of what they do, and how they work, especially in me! Yep, I'm even thankful for my uncomfortable NG tube sucking the crap from my stomach so my bowels can rest before waking and working! I am thankful for the hope of healing and wholeness.

I could go on, but you get the picture. My attitude of gratitude is as much a part of my healing process as the medical treatment I am receiving. If I dwell for so much as a moment on the negative & awful aspects of this trial I'd be consumed and without hope. I choose to remain positive, grateful, and full of hope!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

By God's grace,

Sandii :)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Tropical Storm ...

So, I was expecting calmer waters as my "cruise" continued... things seemed to be going along okay, but little did I know a tropical storm was brewing.

The effects of my chemo were accumulating with each subsequent treatment, but I was on a countdown; three more to go, two more to go... Fatigue was increasing, wiping me out for a week rather than a couple days. I was starting to feel a little nausea. Neuropathy (pins & needles in hands and feet, cold-sensitivity) was intensifying. Chemo brain was ruling my days making it very difficult to even get the daily basic chores achieved and needs met. It's hard to rest when things need to be done.

Praise God for Matt, his Mom, my close friends and many folks who have chipped in at a moment's notice, or by the stirring of the Spirit, to meet our needs as they were increasing.

Monday, October 24, I had chemo #6. They reduced the dose due to the increases I was experiencing in side effects. Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday were surprisingly good post-chemo days for me.

Thursday, October 27, stomach pain returns, as do I to the ER. I'd had a rough night and my ostomy hadn't put out much, when usually it fills once or twice a night. They observed me all day in the ER. My ostomy wasn't flowing. I was nauseated and miserable."We'd like to keep you overnight for observation." I wasn't going to argue. So they admitted me to the hospital.

Friday, October 28: Matt brought the kids to visit in the evening. "Happy Family Day" declared my dear, yet despondent and disappointed, daughter as she reached out to hug me with a pouting face. Our plans to celebrate Family Day, the anniversary of the day we brought the kids home and became a "forever family", were thwarted. But I said to her "Any and every day is a day we can celebrate being a family!" We'll make up for it later. Thankfully our church had an alternative-to-Trick-or-Treating Halloween event so the kids had fun & treats in a safe environment. Unfortunately we also missed our "loosely" observed "Dia de los Muertos" (Day of the Dead) on November 2, as part of Guatemalan All Hallowtide. I was really looking forward to eating Fiambre! Now I just look forward to eating anything.

I figured I'd be home by Saturday at the least... Sunday came and I was still here in hospital. It is a waiting game. Basically my bowels just stopped flowing altogether... totally inflamed, and inactive (suspected reaction to chemo). No signs of infection. Little did I realize that the stomach still produces digestive juices even when the rest of the system is out of whack. The volume is a couple quarts/litres a day and when it can't follow it's normal path, there is only one alternative exit. On top of my misery, Matt calls Sunday morning ... on their way to church a deer jumped onto the car from a steep roadside bank and totally smashed in the front windshield and dented to hood  Had I been in the car I would likely have been injured. No one was injured, just shocked, and overwhelmed by our seeming bad luck.

Mid-week and no sign of bowel activity, I tried a nasal-gastric (NG) tube (down into my stomach) for about 36 hrs to pump out the gastric fluids that were accumulating... it was as completely awful as you might think, and as I had anticipated. I couldn't talk or move my head without gagging, but I could breathe. I was communicating by writing on my cell phone!! And although my stomach got a break from vomiting continually, I pleaded for the removal of the tube the next day. I'd prefer to puke, thank you.

So, here I am, now day 12 in hospital, fed via IV (haven't eaten more than half a dozen bites of oatmeal or applesauce since arriving!), getting prodded, poked, and stuck multiple times daily (mostly through IV access ports), and playing the waiting game. I have seen myriad oncologists, surgeons, their associates, and the tag-along residents and students. They do not all agree on my condition, but offer their insight and treatment options and attempt to work together. I have to mention the nurses and personal care staff... and PRAISE GOD for every single one of them! I can't imagine having to constantly clean up rancid bodily fluids that are not your own!

And I'm glad to report today the first signs of bowel function returning! My ostomy bag had new fluid in it today (forgive my candor over bodily fluids and functions, but this is my life right now!) Sure it is one more rancid fluid to clean up, but a necessary and welcome one. Next step is to keep it flowing and be able to eat. I am not leaving here until I can eat properly. Wouldn't it be lovely if I could enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner?! Here's hoping!

A little bummed that I have missed the peak of our Autumn color changes during the days I have been in here, but I have been able to enjoy a brief glimpse of it from my window which looks out onto a wide meadow and surrounding woodlands. It sure has been a season of change for me this year...

  • From healthy to cancer survivor
  • From active to passive & hospitalized
  • From family caregiver to family giving care
  • From organized & alert to chemo-scrambled fuzzy-brain
  • From goal oriented to faith oriented
  • From taking things for granted to thankful for every provision
  • From unsympathetic to compassionate
  • From stagnant faith to daily grace

Update: Someone lent us a vehicle to cover transport needs, and the car windshield has now been repaired. Meals are being provided in delicious abundance. Prayers abound! Kids both made Honor Roll in first marking period!

The best news to come from this current unpleasantness is that all my doctors agree that we should end my Chemotherapy treatments. NO MORE! NADA! ZIP! ZILCH! YAY!!! Now I get to focus on getting out of hospital, healing/detoxing from Chemo, and preparing from my ostomy reversal in the New Year.

I'm kinda tuckered out folks. This blog is the longest time I've focused on anything, and achieved something, for the past 2 weeks! I'm heading for a nap and some pain meds!

Thanks One and all for your love & faith-filled prayers & support! Please keep it coming!

By God's grace,


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

One day at a time ...

Last I wrote I was wallowing in some degree of self-pity over my "series-of-unfortunate-events" birthday, though I was able to find a silver lining and a little bit of happiness amidst the chaos of the day.

So now I have adopted the motto "One day at a time." I never know what is going to happen, or how I am going to feel any given day, so I thank God for every "good" day, and find some way to praise Him still on the "questionable" days! Well, we've had a few "questionable" days over the last six weeks!

August 15: Post-op chemo #2 was not tolerated quite so well as #1. A week later I was in the ER two days with excruciating pain - more pain than I have ever experienced before! More on that later ...

August 22: First day of the school year! Woohoo!! The kids were actually excited to be returning to school, to see friends they had missed through the summer, and meet new teachers for sixth grade, their second year in Middle School. I awoke to a niggling pain in my belly. Not unusual for me, given the issues I've been having with my ostomy. But as we got ready for school, it progressively got worse ... and worse ... and worse. My doctor's office doesn't open until 8 a.m. It was 7:15 a.m. and I was lying on the couch in significant pain as I waived the last child out the door. I called the on-call doctor ... "Should I wait and come in at 8 a.m. or go to the ER?"

Drove myself to ER (Matt had gone to work) — probably shouldn't have, but got myself there in 5 (legal) minutes! When I arrived I could hardly speak for pain, but was able to squeak that my keys were in the ignition of my car in the drop-off loop, something about excruciating abdominal pain, and hand over my license for ID. I was wheeled into a room quickly, but it was about 25 minutes before I was seen! — the most excruciating 25 minutes of my life! Painkiller finally administered ... totally pain free within 15 minutes and feeling completely human again. Can I get a take-home version of that stuff??!!

I suspected a bowel obstruction, but an X-ray and CT scan (after painkiller) looking for that, or a kidney stone, showed nothing. Blood tests showed nothing. Hung out for five hours or so while they tested and deliberated. Felt quite perfectly normal when I walked out of there, but with no diagnosis, and no meds. I still think I had a bowel obstruction that cleared itself after the painkillers. Crossed my fingers it wouldn't happen again.

August 24: Awoke with niggling abdominal pain ... increasing by the minute as we were getting ready for school. Matt stayed home when I expressed the repeat of symptoms. Kids headed out the door at 7:15 a.m. to catch bus & van to school ... 7:35 a.m. rolls by and no bus or van. Found out schools were closed due to mold problems (long-story-short - No A/C in school buildings all summer > A/C on when school starts > condensation on all cooled surfaces due to high humidity > mold). 7:45 a.m. "Kids, you can watch DVD's ... Matt, take me to the ER!"

Same pain & symptoms. Not quite as intense as two days prior, but heading in that direction. Painkiller please... administered. This time it did not take all the pain away, but reduced it to a somewhat tolerable level. Hmmm. Another five hrs of waiting. Only blood tests this time. Nothing. My surgeon was doing rounds that day, so he stopped by for a chat. He decided it might be "intestinal spasms" caused by the chemo, so he prescribed some meds, and 'heavy-duty' painkillers, and sent me home.

I took the meds as needed for only a couple days following and I haven't yet had a repeat of symptoms. Praise God! In consultation with my Oncologist, I opted to skip my chemo treatment on August 29 to see if I could get through a couple weeks without another visit to the ER.

As for school ... the kids went for two days at the start, then had five days off while they cleaned the buildings and "fixed" the mold problems/causes. At some point in that time, all four school buildings — two elementary, middle & high — were closed! The high school, however, was going to take three weeks to "fix" so they resumed school on an altered schedule, sharing the middle school building by doing half days. HALF DAYS OF SCHOOL FOR THREE WEEKS my friends! High Schoolers went 7:30 a.m. -11:30 a.m., and Middle Schoolers from 11:30 a.m. - 4:15 p.m.! Can you say CRAZY??!!

I am blessed to have a completely flexible work schedule (mostly due to my medical treatment/recovery) so I can be home as needed through all this, but I can't begin to imagine the frustration of parents who do not have that luxury. Above that frustration is the concern for the lost educational time that they won't get back. We'll make up the full days lost by going to school a few holiday Mondays and such, but the half days will not be made up. I wasn't about to let the kids sit idle for 5hrs every morning (I still had them wake at 6:30 a.m.) so they made their own breakfast & lunch, read for an hour, completed homework, and did chores to fill the time. TV was only allowed if all other tasks were complete. Can you say "Tiger Mom"??!!

Praise God, school resumed "normal operational hours" today (Wednesday, September 21). Phew! I will be glad to resume a more normal routine. Does normal even exist?!

September 12: Chemo #3 ... after a four week break, with no return trips to the ER after my missed chemo, I resumed treatment. I usually sleep through my infusions (4-5 hrs) but this time I was engaged by a fellow patient, Jan, and discovered, as we chatted our way through the hours, that we had similar (colo-rectal) cancers, as we compared treatments, side-effects, and more. We shared some of our coping skills and remedies, laughed at ostomy woes, compared surgery recovery experiences, and encouraged one another on this journey. Thankfully our sessions run concurrently, so I look forward to seeing her again next time. I experienced the usual fatigue in the week following, and this second "off-week" has been pretty good! I even walked 1-1/2 miles one day at the YMCA! Now to rebuild my muscles.

After a six week break, our Princesita has resumed swimming for the fall-winter season. She was inspired by the Olympic swimmers this summer, and has hopes to be an Olympic Swimmer (she actually declared this back when she was 7 or 8) so we'll wait and see where that goes! She improves every season and has been among the top ten swimmers her age in our league since she started at age six. As long as she enjoys it ... that is the main thing! She is off to a great start at school, and is completely self-motivated to get homework, study, and assignments done. We've told the kids we couldn't care less about grades, as long as they are putting in their best effort. She continues to grow musically too, in her piano lessons, and singing in Chorus and Small Ensemble at school. It's a good thing she doesn't share my genes, as I hated homework (& school pretty-much), and hated practicing piano. Needless to say I didn't exactly excel at either!

K-man is settling into a new academic environment this year. Apart from a great reading ability, he has every academic challenge you can imagine. After a year in a Life Skills (special needs) class last year, I insisted this year that he be placed in Learning Support classes and spend more time with the general population of kids, not only for academic growth, but social growth too. Even if he struggles to comprehend and apply what he is learning (hence the learning support), I want him to be exposed to more information and experiences, especially in science, social studies, and the arts, so we can find that spark that ignites an interest in something - other than movies! (He seems to be developing an interest for sci-fi movies.) He logged an hour of reading almost daily through the summer, finding interest in historical fiction books (thanks to a generous friend), and Star Wars novels. His latest book is the first three "Indiana Jones" movies (600+ pages of small-print!) Math is his biggest hurdle (and a diagnosed disability), but if he can learn "life math" - number sense, money, time, how to use a calculator, measurement - he might have a fighting chance. Sixth grade folks, and my boy has yet to master these basic skills.

K-man and I will workout together at the YMCA gym and track while his sister swims. He doesn't want to do any sport, so this is the next best thing to exercise his body and brain!

Dear hubby, or "Papa" as we affectionately call him, opted not to teach (electrical studies) at night school this year, so he could be more available to take care of me throughout my treatment. {{LOVE}} He works hard each day (physical labor as an electrician) and it is still my instinct to want to take care of him, and our family needs, so I do what I can when I am able. He pitches in mightily when I am not. I pray he has the strength to endure this journey with me, as he is suffering through this too. {{LOVE}}

Due to a number of factors (ME being the greatest) we did not participate in our annual Labor Day weekend caving-fest down in West Virginia this year - the first time in 13 years we've missed it :( Our caving "family" kept us apprised of their adventures throughout the weekend, with photo and text updates, so we felt included despite our absence :) At home instead, I labored for a day over half a bushel of peaches to make 22 pints of jam! Packing and travelling for a long weekend of caving might have been easier!? We also celebrated Papa's Birthday with a delicious Pavlova!

I have only just begun to resume my part-time work after two months off, working as able around my treatments and myriad appointments. Although the reduced income has been noticeable, we have been so richly and abundantly provided for. It is amazing the ways that God has provided for our needs. A kind neighbor is mowing our lawn "so that Matt is available to take care of you," he told me. Others have given meals, rides, money, activities/outings/babysitting for the kids ... we want for nothing.

After about five years hiatus, we have joined mid-week small-group Bible studies at a new church, and we are looking forward to not only the spiritual growth, but the opportunity to get to know our new church family. The kids have "graduated" into Youth Group this year {{finally}} and will also participate in a youth Bible Study. My group is studying the book of James, which fits right in with my current journey...

I do have great joy! I know Whose I am, and Who's in control, and that there is a purpose for this life experience that is yet to come. I have a long way to go - in every sense of the Word, a LOT to learn, and a LOT of Christian practices to put [back] in place. My journey has been the catalyst for my desire to renew, refresh, and share my faith, and I pray this study may be fuel for the Fire.

Chemo #4 is Monday, September 26. My "missed" chemo will be added back at the end.

This cruise continues. Enjoying these calmer waters for the time being. As I said earlier, "One day at a time."

Thanks for your love, support, and prayers.

Sandii :)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Crappy Birthday to me?

That's my house ... and the street in front of it ... earlier this evening ...

Crappy Birthday to me, Crappy Birthday to me ... :\

Firstly, I am overwhelmed by the many well wishes for joy, happiness, and continued prayers that you have all offered me today. The day started off GREAT and very HAPPY indeed!

My daughter, with whom I had been at odds for most of the day yesterday, woke at 5:30am to decorate our dining room with Birthday decor, because she knew I wasn't exactly in "celebration mode" for this birthday, all things considered. She went all out ... see photo ... and I think it was one of the best birthday gifts I have ever received!! I made waffles for breakfast to keep up the momentum. I got to eat one before we had to head out the door to appointment #1. So far so good. And then ...

My loving daughter surprised me by decorating this morning :)
The day was busy with appointments of one kind or another (yes, even on my Birthday) and my carefully planned day, enveloped in 90°+ weather and 1000% humidity, turned south when my car battery DIED mid-morning, creating a substantial disturbance in the Force. Apart from nearly melting in the heat, I missed an important appointment that can't be rescheduled. I thanked T for the morning decorations again.

After dear hubby rescued me and I swapped to an un-A/C pickup truck I tried to create a mid-day bright spot by stopping for ice cream - for the kids. I have neuropathy, a chemo side-effect, that I can't enjoy cold foods, drinks, water, or handle cold things ... but I did sample a little ice-cream anyway and swished it around in my mouth a little to warm it up before swallowing. Yum?

Another afternoon appointment did not allow me much rest time, and I was truly fatigued by the heat, and still pretty sore about the car battery, but I was counting down to going out for dinner, and a tender juicy steak & Caesar salad ... wish granted. But I was so hungry that I ate too fast, almost to the point of nausea. Belly aching, we headed home. Dark storm clouds nearing, thunder and lightning, we make it home before a gully-washer unleashes it's fury!!

My darling Princesita chose and colored this gorgeous picture for me
So we get home and settle into a family movie ... there is a knock at the door 20 minutes later and the neighbor was there to tell me the street was flooded up to our porch (see top photo), which meant water was pouring in our basement. The basement drain seemed to handle it ok. The biggest loss that we have discovered so far are basement pantry items, but now we will have to battle mold, while our dehumidifier is already running all day-every day.

It was all a recipe for two very grumpy, short-tempered parents. And God has graced us with two incredibly resilient, thoughtful, on-their-best-behavior, grace-filled kids, who are watching us melt down ... and offering hugs. 

The floodwaters have receded (drains were blocked due to road construction), and we decided to finish watching the movie to take our minds off things before we assess the full extent of damage/loss in the basement.

God is good. It could have been much worse. I had a 'spare' vehicle to use. The steak was juicy & tasty! Our basement is not a complete washout. I am loved, and I have a dining room full of "Happy", to remind me of that ... not to mention all your wonderful wishes!

So, I guess it really is a Happy Birthday after all! 

PS. My first Chemo went very well. Mild neuropathy (as explained above and expected to accumulate through treatments) and fatigue a couple days after, but otherwise feeling pretty fine. Good appetite. No nausea Praise God!! My Ostomy is giving me all kinds of trouble due to my sensitivity to adhesives, and I had a major blowout last night at midnight {sigh}, so I entered this day sleep-deprived. God knew I really needed my daughter's gift this morning to get me through this day.

Next Chemo is Monday, August 15th.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Rough seas ahead ...

Five busy weeks have passed since my surgery ...

I finally got around to taking "Birthday" pictures of K-man, who turned twelve while I was in hospital. I can't believe how much this wonderful young man has changed in the past year! I think he grew a whole head taller! Gone is my boy soprano and he's been replaced with a squeaky tenor/baritone. This kid loves all things Star Wars!!

T had a great summer swim season, most of which I missed. {{Special thanks to my bestie Denyse and other team families who transported T to and fro.}} She snuck in a 'bonus' season as a 10/under swimmer as her birthday is a couple days after the cut-off. I was very happy to meet my recovery goal of getting to the three championship meets at the end of the season. It started with the Divisional (2A) Meet last Saturday (July 23) - six teams. Kids were only allowed to swim three events, so we picked her best: Girls 9-10 50m Freestyle, 50m Backstroke & 50m Butterfly (which she swam in the Medley Relay Team) ... See T's results below left.

The 16 fastest swimmers in each event from the combined four divisions advanced to All Stars the next day (Sunday), which is a championship meet for the whole league/all four divisions (20+ teams). See T's results below right.


And as if that isn't enough, the fastest 8 swimmers in each All Star event then move on to Mid Caps, which was held yesterday. (July 30) Mid Caps is a Central PA "east-shore league (top 8) vs. west-shore league (top 8)" championship meet. But after all her hard work I wasn't sure she would go to Mid Caps as T strained her shoulder mid-week. Rest (no practice), ice packs, and ibuprofen helped, and off we went. T's Medley Relay team placed second, she placed 6th in 50 Freestyle, and 5th in 50 Backstroke, very near her best times! A spectacular effort with a dud shoulder!! Now for a {welcome} 6-week break until the winter season starts!!

As for me, I continue to gain strength and endurance daily, thanks be to God. I move about quite freely now, though at a significantly slower pace than I am used to. I still have to be careful not to overdo it. I get as many tasks done as I can in the mornings, and I am usually laid out in the recliner for the afternoons and evenings. I started driving again around July 20 which has reduced the stress of arranging rides for the kids and I to our various appointments. My diet is slowly gaining variety, though that may be short lived. My ostomy is uncomfortable. The function and maintenance of it is going fine, it's my sensitivity to adhesives that is causing a problem, as the ostomy bags adhere to my abdomen, and are causing significant irritation to the skin underneath. Still consulting with a variety of doctors and nurses (and YouTube) about how to treat it.

I sail back into rough seas this week as I start the final round of chemotherapy on Wednesday, August 3. Long infusions (3-4 hrs?) and a pump for 48 hrs, every two weeks, for 8 sessions (about 4 months). This round of treatment is largely preventative. It further decreases my chance of recurrence. I'd appreciate your prayers going into this phase of treatment, as the side effects are likely to be much greater than the last round of low-dose chemo. Potential hair loss is the least of my worries, it's the nausea I am most concerned about. I can barely sneeze due to pain/tightness in my abdominal muscles - I don't think I can deal with full-blown nausea. I am eager to get this phase started but most importantly finished.

I have friends who are undergoing chemo ... one of them has been doing this every two weeks for years. YEARS. You probably know someone enduring the same. With so many people praying for me, my prayers are focused on my fellow warriors. My prayer for them is strength for each day, comfort from pain/nausea, peace that surpasses all understanding, a strong support network, LOVE in abundance, and a hope that is not disappointed... All the things I have been blessed with. I know God is listening and has answered so many prayers thus far.

Thank you for your continued prayers, encouragement, and support.

In Christ's strength,


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The worst is over...

What a tumultuous ride! PHEW! Back on calmer seas ...

It is good to be HOME.

Surgery June 27: Bathed in prayer ... all went well.
Recovery in Hospital June 27- July 3: So imagine being hit by a tractor trailer and surviving ... at least that's what it felt like to me!

I spent most of the week in bed. By day two I was walking to the bathroom and back, with a walker and supervised. Day three I walked down the hall with a walker, supervised. Day four FATIGUE & nausea hit me big time. Whilst the medical care is world class, hospital is not a good place to sleep. Day five I felt better again and anticipated going home the next day for K-man's Birthday. Day six ... more fatigue and nausea at which I voluntarily opted to stay another day. With a little prep before I went into hospital, Matt capably took care of making K-man's 12th Birthday a wonderful celebration at home, and he brought them to the hospital in the afternoon so I could watch K-man's delight at opening his gifts. And he was DELIGHTED! As was I.

I had a number of pastoral visits throughout the week, offering warm smiles and welcome words of hope, encouragement, and prayer. I work for a church conference - representing 900+ churches in central and northeastern Pennsylvania. Word gets around (authorized!) when you are on conference staff, and I received cards and messages from countless church prayer groups, pastors, and church members, many of whom I don't know, that I was being lifted in prayer. I feel it folks. I could not endure this journey without my faith, without my Savior.

My surgeon informed me that my tumor had a "full pathological response" to the chemo & radiation a couple months ago, meaning they found no living cancer cells in what he removed. Praise God for this precise answer to many prayers! However, because I am young, the surgeon and my oncologist would still like me to undergo the follow up chemo protocol, to further reduce any recurrence (in case young cancer cells may be active elsewhere.) Praise God! I know, it's not what I was expecting, and I am certainly not looking forward to it at all, but God is in control, and everyone has my best interests at heart. The chemo treatments will start up in about a month.

Sunday July 3: After waking and feeling stronger, and being checked on by almost every staff member/medical team in the hospital, they discharged me at last to go home.

From the chest up I feel pretty fine, but after a week mostly sent in bed my leg muscles are reduced to jelly. And the FATIGUE. Oh my! It takes EVERYTHING in me to walk up or down our stairs (with Matt to lean/hold on) especially these first couple days. My mid section is a little tender as you might imagine, with two runs of staples, an ostomy (go ahead, research that on Google!), and an abdominal drain.

Praise God, and with the help of common over-the-counter pain meds, I have enjoyed restful sleep the past couple nights. The first night was definitely a little rougher. Each day I wake feeling stronger and better, and I try to meander the downstairs as much as I can through the day to work on endurance and strength. Matt took the week off work this week to care for me, and his care has been second to none. ♥ A visiting nurse stops by every couple of days to check my vitals. So far, so good.

So now I learn about living with an ostomy. I have to get used to a very low-fiber diet, at least to start, and drink lots of extra fluids. Canned/well cooked fruit and veg (no skins/seeds), white bread, broiled lean meats, white rice, white pasta, lean fish, dairy products, Gatorade & vegetable juice. Extra salt is encouraged. Pringles come in handy there! I have already been inspired by a young (20's) woman on YouTube who has produced a number of informational/helpful videos on living with an ostomy. What a way to make lemonade!!

Well, it's taken me all day to compose this blog. It's not comfortable to sit any length of time in one position, and I've had visitors, and other tasks to attend to throughout the day. Now for some family movie time.

Calmer seas.

Thanks for your love, prayers and encouragement.

In Christ's strength,

Sandii :) xxxxxxxxxxx

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Time to set sail again ...

Memorial Day weekend in West Virginia

My time on the Island of R&R is drawing to a close. On Monday I set sail again, headed right into a storm! But storms don't last forever ...

The kids are at their summer camps this week, and Matt and I are enjoying "date week"!! It has been delightfully quiet - no-one pushing anyone else's buttons. We went out for dinner last night and enjoyed not having to return by a certain time. We can watch whatever we want on TV! I had a to-do list for this week that is as long as my arm ... haven't crossed much off.

But truth be told, I am really looking forward to seeing the kids again. We pick up K-man Friday afternoon (tomorrow) and his sister on Saturday morning - after watching her perform in her camp musical.

A couple of weeks ago we were treated to a long weekend at our friends' cabin in West Virginia. It was a spectacular weekend in every way - the hospitality and fellowship of our friends, the weather, the quite/remote setting, and no schedule or list of to-do's but RELAX! And that we did.

This lovely cabin is buried in a remote valley of West Virginia

K & T & Biskit enjoyed some time paddling on, and swimming in, the lake

Biskit enjoyed much of our weekend away off-leash - a first for her!
In the past 8 weeks I have been feeling top notch! I have been exercising regularly, eating everything, and I feel as healthy as ever. Hard to believe I have cancer. What I do have is a new appreciation for the taste of food, for every breath I breathe, for every precious moment with my family & friends, and for the infinite ways God blesses me daily.

School's out for summer. Check out how our kids have grown through the year! The last day of school was also our beautiful baby girl's eleventh birthday!

Growing up so fast
T's summer swim season is off to a great start. I hope to be able to go to the last couple meets and the (3) championship meets in late July.

Here in PA we are having a pretty mild and quite lovely summer so far, warm to hot days with lovely cool nights. Anyways, summer has offically started (on Solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere) and it's getting hotter. Or is it my hot flashes brought on by medically induced menopause? We haven't got A/C units in yet, but Matt promises they will be installed by the time I get home from hospital next week! So, about that ...

I set sail again on Monday. Surgery is scheduled for next Monday, June 27, around 1pm, to remove what is left of my cancer tumor and install an ileostomy (temporary bowel diversion). I will likely be in hospital around 5 days (for pain management and until return of modified bowel function), and I am pretty sure I will be laid out for much of the next week or two. I am told a visiting nurse will be helping me out at home as I get used to the ileostomy. Grandma (my mother-in-law) will care for the kids the week I am in hospital, and Matt will take vacation the week I come home. One of my goals (apart from cure) is to be driving again by July 18.

I am very positive and full of faith going into next week. The surgeon said the tumor appears to be nothing more than a scar (from radiation), and he was very pleased. I anticipate that the surgery will go according to plan. I am mentally/spiritually prepared to endure the pain and discomfort ... at least that's how I feel now! I'm sure I'll be complaining and grumpy next week!!

Best scenario - the remains of the tumor come back negative for active cancer cells and the ileostomy is reversed in 5-8 weeks, with no follow-up chemo needed. End of treatment. Anticipated scenario - if cancer/tumor still active, then 4 weeks recovery from surgery before starting chemo - 8 sessions: once every 2 weeks (approx. 4 months) with ileostomy reversed about a month after chemo finished, somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, God willing.

I imagine much of the next two weeks I will be in a painkiller-induced daze or asleep! I really need to write a list of daily and weekly chores to keep everyone on track (and pets fed!) ...

I hope to be home by Saturday, July 2nd, so I can be part of K-man's 12th Birthday celebration ... I just need to wrap his gifts and hide them before he gets home from camp!

This handsome dude will turn 12 in July!

Be joyful always: God has given me a peace that surpasses all understanding (or worry)
Pray continually: I have many friends enduring cancer treatments/surgeries that have been heavy on my heart these past couple weeks. I pray for their healing, comfort, wholeness, and the same hope and peace that I have experienced.
Give thanks in all circumstances: So many people have signed up to care for me and my family through these upcoming weeks. And I have myriad prayer warriors. I thank God for each and every one of them.

Until next time ...

By God's abundant grace,

Sandii :)

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Cheep fun!

This past week's weather has been nothing but gloomy, miserable, pouring rain. Today it was wonderful to see some sunshine again ... in more ways than one.

It's Spring and I have broody hens, so figured I might as well give one of them something constructive to do ... considering she's not going to lay eggs for about two months. So a few weeks ago, I put some fertile eggs under one and PRESTO, wouldn't ya know some chicks hatched out of 'em over the past couple of days!

Six beautiful little chickies ... they're like sunshine that fits in the palm of your hands! 

Agnes, a Buff Orpington, goes broody every Spring and makes a great Mama hen.

These little rays of sunshine are like going on a sightseeing tour on my Isle of Rest & Relaxation.

Phase one of my treatment (chemo & radiation) finished on April 8, and it took about three weeks for the side effects to wear off. I will never take my sense of taste, and enjoyment of food, for granted again. For the better part of two months food was my enemy ... I felt like I was like sailing on rough seas. Praise God everything tastes wonderful again — maybe more-so — and the rest of my digestive system is cooperating too. 

I have to say right now I feel pretty great! I lost about 15lbs (though it's not a weight-loss plan I would recommend!) My energy level is pretty much back to normal, so I am back at the gym, walking 1-2 miles three times a week, and building up my strength again. To look at me you wouldn't have a clue that I am in the middle of a cancer battle. 

More good news — my radiologist said the tumor has shrunk by about half, and should continue to shrink over the coming weeks. He was very happy with my progress. The doc wants me to walk regularly and eat well (esp. more protein) to prep my body for surgery on June 27. 

Looking Ahead ...

So I have about seven weeks more on this Island of R&R, before surgery to remove what's left of the tumor (and nearby lymph nodes), and install an ileostomy to allow the area (rectum) to heal. I will be in hospital for around five days and then I really have no idea what to expect by way of recovery time after that. One prediction is 6-8 weeks. I don't know if that means totally laid out, light duty, or what?
I'll get a month of healing time after surgery before the second round of harder-hitting chemo starts. Those infusions will be every two weeks for a total of eight sessions, almost four months. The ileostomy will be reversed/removed about a month after chemo is done, somewhere around Thanksgiving (end of November) if my calculations are correct. 

We'll get the "help/meal roster" set up again in about a month and put the word out.

But enough about all that ... 

Last blog I introduced our newest family member BISKIT ... she has settled in beautifully and I have nicknamed her "SHADOW" because she follows me everywhere as I move about the house. Seems I am the "pack leader" as far as she is concerned. She is quick to learn and eager to please. The kids have a pretty good command over her now, but she still might pull them off their feet if she sees a squirrel! She needs to be tethered to a tree at our other property as she is still eager to chase the chickens. I've given her a few, supervised, close encounters with them, but she's not ready to free range with them just yet. Will she ever? Maybe not, but we will continue to work on it.

BISKIT (a.k.a. my "Shadow") eagerly watches the chickens free ranging a few feet beyond her reach.
Did I mention the kids finish 5th grade in about 20 (school) days? Summer is almost upon us.

Be joyful always: Spring has finally sprung. The landscape is lush and green again. Wednesday, May 11, is our 14th Wedding Anniversary :) Right now life is good. 
Pray continually: As bad as I thought my chemo side effects were, I know of many people battling cancer and dealing with so much more pain, discomfort, prolonged treatment, and more complications than I have. My heart and prayers go out to them. 
Give thanks in all circumstances: Praise God from whom all blessings flow ... and thank you for your continued prayers,encouragement, and support.

Please continue to pray our family through this journey, especially for Papa who is experiencing fatigue (working full-time & part-time) and some bodily "wear and tear." He finishes teaching this week and is looking forward to some extra rest. He'll need it to prepare for June 27 and beyond!

Happy Mother's Day to all you Mums/Moms out there! Hope you are appreciated & spoiled more than usual :)

By God's abundant grace,

Sandii :)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Land Ho!

It snowed today! It's the middle of April and it snowed!?! About 3 inches!! I don't recall seeing snow in April in my 20 years here. It's supposed to be spring! I am not sure the blossoming fruit trees are going to appreciate it much.

Our cherry tree is in bud and full blossom ... but I am not sure the pollinators are gonna visit anytime soon
Back to better news, I'd love to introduce the newest member of our family. Meet BISKIT. She's a pure-bred Blue Heeler (aka. Australian Cattle Dog) ... yep, another Aussie! She'll be two years old in a week. Isn't she beautiful?!

We have talked a good bit in the past couple of years about wanting to get a dog as a 'therapy companion' for K, to help with his ADD, social development, and teach some life-skills/responsibility. BUT last week I would have told you — and I know I told the kids a couple times — that we weren't going to get a dog until we moved into our new house (which we have not even started renovating!) THEN on Friday evening we saw a poster about her. It was our gut instinct to call and arrange a meeting on Saturday morning, and we took the kids (we didn't tell them where or why we were running this "errand"). Upon meeting she was friendly, alert, and attentive to us. T took to her immediately, K was a little hesitant to interact with her, but within 15 minutes he warmed up to her. 

Her former owner is relocating to marry his high school sweetheart, who has a Pit Bull, so he had to find her a new home. After about half-an-hour chatting and observing her behavior they offered her to us, and we accepted — and we went home with a dog, vet report/papers, crate, food, toys, dishes — FREE!! And indeed she is proving to be a real gift. She is crate trained, and has much of her basic training, and she is learning very quickly the rules of our house. But the biggest gift is seeing K embracing her, laying down with her, playing with her, and wanting to be with her. And I can tell you she is already having a therapeutic affect on him. 

One idea I have is to have K teach her agility. And we definitely need to train her to be mellow around our chickens — she was a little too eager to 'meet' them, and they were squawking the alarm of a potential predator & fluttering around in their coops. She sure was straining on the leash!!

• • • • •

As for my cruise, this is the end of week six and I have arrived at my first port of call. It is called REST and I get to stay for about 10 weeks. Today was my last day of radiation and continuous-low-dose chemotherapy. I even got a certificate!

A review of the past couple weeks: 
It was nice to get back to church, after a couple months away due to swim meets, just in time to celebrate Easter and our Risen Savior who is victorious over cancer, who gives me strength for each day.

After a two-week break from chemo (weeks 3&4) to recover some from the intensity of the side effects (but really I felt just as bad, and ended up a whole week off work), I was hooked back up to the chemotherapy pump on a 40% lower dose for weeks 5&6. As for side effects, the waters were mildly choppy, with a rogue wave here and there, but thankfully, I did not experienced the same intensity of side-effects as the first round of chemo, though definitely some version of them.

And as if all that hasn't been enough to live with, I've had four deer-tick bites in the last 2 weeks :( Can't imagine my blood tastes too good right now, full of chemo-crap. None-the-less I got a single dose of antibiotics as a preventative measure against Lyme disease and I will have to be way more vigilant about checking myself after going to our "farm" property. Seems ticks are out in full-force this year already. My first line of defense will be to spray all my shoes with bug/tick repellent.

So, I have to admit I was feeling a little "Ecclesiastical" for the past few weeks. I was fatigued, there is no joy in eating, I keep finding ticks on me, and I have felt pretty rotten ... King Solomon's words were ringing in my ears "When I observed all that happens under the sun, I realized that everything is pointless, a chasing after wind..." (Ecclesiates 1:14) "...Like fish tragically caught in a net or like birds trapped in a snare, so are human beings caught in a time of tragedy that suddenly falls to them..." (Ecclesiastes 9:12) And God listened, graciously.

But I have arrived at the island of REST. I anticipate having "sea-legs" for a couple of weeks to come before my body starts to detox and heal from the radiation and chemo. The oncology nurse said it could even get a little worse before it gets better. I have a variety of follow up appointments over the coming weeks, including one with the colo-rectal surgeon to determine my surgery date (approx 10 weeks.) I'll let you know.

In the meantime I continue to celebrate God's presence, strength, and joy...

"Be joyful always..." Every new day is cause for joy! God's abundant provision for our needs is cause for joy. The Risen Savior and his victory over death and sin is cause for joy!
"Pray continually ..." I continue to pray for those I know undergoing cancer treatment
"Give thanks in all circumstances ..." Phase 1 of my treatment is DONE. And I've lost about 13 lbs, which I have been trying to shed for over a year!! And of course I always give thanks for those of you who are caring for us through prayer, encouragement, meals, cards & letters, rides ...

Until next time ...

Sandii :)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Something to celebrate ...

Let me talk about something good for a change ... I was able to go and see T swim at the 2016 Pennsylvania YMCA State Championships this past weekend! If you had've asked me Friday morning was I going to make it I would have answered no, but I felt stronger throughout the day, and with a significant amount of Divine intervention (answered prayer), and dear hubby driving, we were able to make the 1.5 hr drive to State College without stops!!

After checking into our hotel around 7:30pm Friday evening {and a just-made-it-in-time "visit"} we headed to the Penn State University campus to find the Natatorium (after all we had to check in at 6:30am Saturday morning!), parking, and subsequently The Creamery - for ice-cream!

We walked around the McCoy Natatorium at Penn State University to give T a feel for what to expect the next day
{and maybe in her future??!!}
Saturday we arose at 5:30am, found our way to the pool by 6:30am, found some team moms in the spectator gallery, and set up camp for the next 6 hrs or so!

All of our kids' core group of best swimming friends/teammates (about a dozen 9-10 year olds) had made it to States! There are 78 YMCA teams in Pennsylvania. For our kids to make it to the top 24 swimmers (top 6 in each division) in their events is pretty A.MAZ.ING!

T's events were Girls 9-10 200 yard Medley Relay (50 backstroke), in which she was the first to swim in the first event of the day ... talk about pressure! Her team swam fantastically and took nearly 9 seconds off their best time to finish seventh! T placed 14th in her individual 50 yard Backstroke. Another great swim! And of course we cheered on all her friends :)

First swimmer (of Medley Relay) in first race of the day ... no pressure!

T swam 50 yard backstroke in the Medley Relay & individual event. 

T cheers for her teammate in the girls 9-10 200 yard Medley Relay

The WSY 9-10 girls 200 yard Medley Relay team ROCKED at States!!
Many of the kids were there for just one event, and a number of parents laughed that they drove 3 hrs (round trip) and spent a night in a hotel, not to mention meal costs, to watch their kids swim for about 35 seconds!! It's what we do! STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS. PRICELESS.

As for me ... I think these past weeks might be akin to cruising in a tropical storm. I was looking forward to my week off chemotherapy last week and to feeling better. Truth-be-told, I don't feel better. Still sick-to-stomach, still get the chills, still have the runs, still fatigued, and now hives added to the mix ... oh, there is a silver lining in that my mouth lining is smooth again and my lips feel almost normal and not sunburned.

I hit an all-time {so-far} low on Thursday when my esophagus was in so much pain (burned by reflux) that I cried, hard — and prayed. A call to my doctor and yet another prescription remedied that within 12 hrs. I can't believe what so many cancer battlers have endured.

Needless to say, I was not looking forward to today's weekly check-in with the Chemo doc, as I was scheduled to be hooked back up to the chemo pump on a lower dose ... GOOD NEWS ... no chemo for this week either! And finally, some anti-nausea meds to add to my daily regimen. Before all this, I was apt to avoid even over-the-counter meds, and I don't think I have ever finished a prescription antibiotic ... now I am supposed to take 10 pills a day!?!

Be joyful always - God is watching over us. I got to watch T swim at States! No chemo for another week!
Pray continually - If there is one thing I do more regularly it is pray! Especially for those I know enduring any medical treatment, and for their family members caring for them.
Give thanks in all circumstances - Our friends & family continue to pour out expressions of love, encouragement, and hope, and bless us in ways we never imagined, not to mention some fabulous meals!

Thanks for your support.

By God's grace,


Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV