A cancer journey – the third infusion

Infusion drugs!

On Monday, Rick gave lots of blood for MDA to work with. It is MD Anderson’s clinical trial standard operating procedure. The following day we were to  see the doctor and have the infusion. I counted 15 vials of blood taken and I didn’t even faint. OK … I got a little weak in the knees maybe. I don’t know how the lab technicians do this all day.

On Tuesday, we met with Dr. Campbell, our kidney oncologist. Rick’s blood work continues to majorly improve. Yeah! Dr. Campbell also noted that if he didn’t know exactly where the lump on his chest was located, he would have missed it. He estimated the size now at approximately one centimeter. Lots of smiling while this sinks in! The CT scan in a couple of weeks will give us lots more information, but for now, the signs are all there that the immunotherapy infusions are working their magic.

Next we headed over to the MDA’s Main Building for the last of Rick’s long infusions of the two drugs. The Main Building reminds me of the wild west … a lot rowdier than the calm atmosphere of the Mays Building. It was new territory for us as we had always headed up to the 8th floor of the Mays Building for infusions. Not a big deal except I had to figure out where to go to get Rick’s IV started. It has been our experience, so far, the nurses who drip the drugs are not as well versed in starting IV’s. Not to worry … MDA has people that are expert IV starters. Just ask me … I will tell you where to find them.

The infusion started late and took four hours this time. Our world record was five hours … not counting waiting to get in the door! Yeah … you can burn a whole day hanging out at MDA but then they give you a warm blanket and the tension melts away. Katie drove her dad home for me again so I could get back home for Mimi’s bus. What would I do without her?

As I made my way to collect my car from valet parking I had my own adventure. Not to worry … no blood was spilled. The valet dudes were a little pokey in getting me my car keys. Instead a Valet Supervisor came toward me with a clipboard. Not a good sign. Seems one of the valet drivers backed my car, which has backup camera, into a concrete pillar and crunched one of the tail lights and messed up the paint. Really? In the grand scheme of things … not as big a deal as Stage IV Kidney Cancer … and they are paying to fix it.

A cancer journey … promises and second infusion

Last year when Kate, our lovely daughter-in-law, was going through RCIA studying to become a Catholic, my husband made her a promise. He would be there with her at the Easter Vigil in Washington, DC when she officially became Catholic. A few weeks later we paid for plane tickets. I even did something I’ve NEVER done before … paid for four days of hotel on hotels.com. Oh yeah … we were going to be there … or be square!

Shortly after, Rick got the kidney cancer diagnosis and it didn’t look like that promise was going to be kept. I knew Kate would understand but Rick and I were both really upset. We had quietly prayed for over four years that Kate’s faith journey would lead her in the direction of the Catholic Church and now it was going to really happen.

Dr. Campbell told us it was possible Rick would feel better after his first immunotherapy infusion. Maybe even well enough for the trip. Not sure I believed him. But we clung to the possibility. Except the first infusion was delayed five times and time was getting short. Every time I spoke with our son, Ricky, on the phone I would tell him to be prepared that we might not come. Personally, I really didn’t think it was even possible considering how bad Rick felt. We were to leave on Thursday, March 24. That Monday before, we were still going back and forth on whether we should go. On Tuesday, my hubby said, “We are going.” He was a little better … but wouldn’t be running sprints in the airport.

The trip was way more fun for me than for my husband. It was the first time in months that I had sat in a restaurant and held an adult beverage in one hand … especially one so darn cute with lots of fruity stuff poking out the top. After the first three sips, I was calling my Sangria … Sagria. It was a magical night!

We had to majorly slow things down for Rick. He took lots of naps during the day. I also rolled him through the airport in a wheelchair. Rick barely managed to get through the three hours passion service on Good Friday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. I don’t know how he did it. Well, it wouldn’t have happened without our son dropping us at the curb. On Saturday, Rick did have to miss the four-hour Easter Vigil. It wasn’t going to be over until 11:30 p.m. and I insisted on him hanging out at the hotel. Kate’s awesome mom recorded the big event on video for Rick to view later.

The day after we got back from our trip, we meet with Dr. Campbell right before Rick’s second infusion. The lump on Rick’s chest had turned from hard to soft and flattened out. Imagine going from a “D” cup to a “B” in two weeks. He is getting some of his stamina back and his blood levels look great. His doctor told us Rick’s improvement was “dramatic.” I love that word “dramatic.”

The second infusion went smoother than the first. Not much in the way of side effects. No MDA appointments for two weeks. We’ve got some home projects that need attention and I finally dropped off our income taxes.

This week I learned … it is lovely when you run into people you know at MDA like the amazing Ev and Joan Evans … oh and my daughter, Katie, is extra awesome. She drove her dad home from MDA when the infusion lasted longer than expected and I had to get back home for Mimi’s drop off by the day center bus. She is my hero! I also learned how much pleasure I get out of just getting the sheets washed when I realize I don’t have to be at MDA the rest of the week! I learned the simple pleasures of walking among the cherry blossoms with people that I love like Aleta, Sarah and Kate. I learned how much of an awesome adult my son, Ricky, has become. He took such great care of his dad and me on our visit. I got a little emotional when he dropped us at the airport. I also learned the priceless value of a kept promise.

Florida’s white sandy beaches, fishing and Texas Holdem

Just after Easter, I spent several days relaxing in Navarre, Florida on white sandy beaches. Located in the Florida panhandle, we stayed at The Pearl of Navarre Beach. Google the condo name and you will find several ways to rent one of their condos. Every morning someone puts out all the beach chairs/umbrellas for their guests. The water consists of lots of shades of blue … and the sand it was fluffy and white … a great combination!

We did lots of relaxing, walks on the beach, playing board games and even learned to play Texas Holdem. I’ve seriously gotta learn to bluff! The boys did lots of fishing. With options like pier fishing, surf fishing and charter fishing there are choices to be made! One afternoon hubby and I ventured out for lunch. I highly recommend The Slippery Mermaid for sushi! With items on the menu like Sassy Mermaid and Funky Mermaid how can you go wrong?

I gotta give photo credit to Kate’s awesome mom, Aleta. She took nearly all the photographs.

Spiritual batteries recharged!

This past weekend I went on St. Martha’s ACTS Retreat as a team member. I had the privilege of helping host just over 40 retreatants. To say it was a spirit-filled party was an understatement. Set just north of Tomball, Texas at Circle Lake Retreat Center, the setting was perfectly serene.

Almost exactly a year ago I attended as a retreatant. Back then, I so lamented my lack of a camera to catch the beauty of the place. Not this time! I purposely kept my photos devoid of people … except for St. Francis! As we were all kept VERY busy, I missed so many little pockets of the lovely center. My deepest regret was not having my camera in my pocket in the early morning when the steam rose off the lake. It was simply beautiful.

A most excellent collection of windmills in Holland

If you go to Holland, eating Dutch cheese, visiting the Anne Frank House, and checking out a windmill should really be on your bucket list.

Located close to Rotterdam, is a most excellent collection of windmills called the Kinderdijk. Be sure and visit their informative website if you are planning a visit.

In 1997, the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has 19 impressive windmills for your viewing enjoyment. Located on both sides of a waterway, the best way to view the windmills is via bike, although we saw quite a few walking the path. Bike rental fees are just 2.50 euros for two hours.

As I hadn’t actually pedaled a bike in many years, I imagined the thick, tall grasses on both sides of the pathway were planted just for me. In case I fell off the bike I wouldn’t fracture any bones … or fall into the water.

One of the windmills, second on the right, is a working museum and charges a small fee. As a visit to Delft and Haarlem were on the list that day we didn’t make it to the museum.

Here is an interesting factoid: 17 of the restored windmills were built between 1738 and 1740 for water drainage.

My grandfather, who was from northern Holland, actually took care of water levels, probably in such a windmill. The visit to the Kinderdijk, made it all the more personal and impressive.

Sister Mary Rita’s Healing Quilt

Every quilt has a story … especially this one. It belongs to my friend Mary. When she asked me if I could make a hanging sleeve for a quilt she wanted to hang, of course I said yes. When I first saw it, I knew I’d never seen anything like it. It was heavy … very heavy … and contained 120 very personal squares … each one unique … and most every single square was not made by a quilter.

It was lovingly made 20 years ago for Sister Mary Rita, my friend’s sister. Mary Rita was her oldest sibling and the oldest of six girls and seven boys. She was a Catholic nun in the order of the Humility of Mary. As a young child, my friend learned so much from her sister about unconditional love and the value of each person. Sister Mary Rita also had the inside scoop that nuns actually do have hair. She was an educator in the Catholic schools in Cleveland, Ohio. Mary told me her sister was well-educated, smart, compassionate, funny and so much more. Take a look at the picture taken while the family gathered for a picnic…..yes, she was also a swinging nun!

When Sister Mary Rita was in her 40’s she was diagnosed with a blood disorder and then with Multiple Myeloma. For many years she lived with her cancer, receiving treatments as needed. Mary told me her sister continued to live her life to the fullest, with little to no complaining, being more concerned about how others were doing. In her 50’s and 60’s, she took more time off and traveled with friends. The Nags Head North Carolina beach was a favorite destination.

The patchwork quilt was a thought … a discussion … between Mary Rita and her best friend, Sister Cathy Walsh, in 1994. They had seen an article in the Reader’s Digest about a healing quilt. Cathy said that talking to and seeing Mary Rita nearly every day, she sensed that Mary Rita needed to reach out to friends and family and let them know how to support her. As friends do, Cathy encouraged her. Mary Rita wrote a letter asking for prayer and/or a patch for a quilt. They created a template and sent it with the letter to family and friends, many of whom were priests and nuns. In her letter, she wrote something like “I will wrap the quilt around myself and be reminded of and feel your love.”

Patches started flowing in …. 120 are on the original quilt with scriptures, poems, embroidery, needlepoint, creative arts, photographs, a clover secured in a plastic casing and even a Cleveland police patch. Later, ten more patches came in and small lap quilt was also made.

Cathy commented that every quilt square has its own story and they all came together to share and provide Mary Rita comfort. Sister Mary Rita wrapped herself in it daily!

In November of 2001, Mary’s sister had a seizure while driving. Mary told me her family thanked God He protected her, and others on the road, after she crashed into someone’s yard. By mid-January of 2002 Sister Mary Rita was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma brain tumor. Nine months later she passed away, but throughout her interventions and treatments she did as she always did…. lived her life to the fullest, listened and learned from the doctor and others, treasured her time with family and friends and never lost her faith.

In 2007, my friend received the quilt and it is now hanging in her guest bedroom. As guests visit, the quilt gives her the opportunity to tell others about her amazing sister and all those who touched her life.

Light-fingered Mimi

At least once a week some little playing piece, wooden block, colorful wedge, or animal shape comes home from the day center Mimi attends in the crevices of her wheelchair. Over the past few years I’ve probably collected enough stuff to fill a five-gallon bucket.

I used to wait until there was a large handful of pieces, enough to fill a plastic baggie, before returning them. Mimi’s bus driver was then entrusted with the treasure trove to make sure the stash made it back to Mimi’s teacher. That was until I found a great new way to return the items. What do you think?

Celebrating baby milestones on FaceTime

It was my husband who came up with the idea to FaceTime our grandson this past week. I was a little skeptical at first. I mean … Jake is only three months old. Rick thought it would be fun to sing the “Happy Three-Month Birthday” song to Jake … and after about five seconds of contemplation, I totally agreed!

“Be sure and pick up one of those little bundt cakes and a candle,” he smiled.

Although I totally got the heartfelt sentiment, Rick is one dude with a ginormous sweet tooth. But let’s face it … for every important milestone … there must be cake! And carrot cake from our local bundt cake store is even better.

I love how my daughter and son-in-law celebrate Jake’s milestones. Etsy has these cute stickers that you can stick on a onesie. Search for “month by month baby stickers.” They have hundreds of different kinds. Jake’s photos are are startling in their contrast! Is that elephant shrinking or is Jake growing? You be the judge!

Saugatuck, Michigan … love this harbor town

Just got back from a lovely visit to Michigan to visit family. It’s July and the temperatures hovered in the 70’s and the humidity was non-existent. It was such a nice respite from the Houston heat!

While the boys went fishing, the girls visited the Lake Michigan harbor town of Saugatuck, about an hour away from Kalamazoo. We only had time to squeeze out a few hours. It felt like skipping stones over the surface of a travel destination loaded with plenty of seaside charm, lots of boutique shopping, dining … fine and casual, homemade fudge, cookies and ice cream establishments and wine tasting. We chose the Coral Gables Restaurant, right on the lake, located at 220 Water Street for our lunch break. Nice salads and gourmet sandwiches! Highly recommend!

From the Saugatuck Visitor’s Guide there appears to be plenty of lodging, performing arts and recreation, like the Harbor Duck tour and boat cruises. I could totally see hangin’ out in the town for a relaxing week.

During our stroll through the town, we sampled interesting olive oils and balsamic vinegars at the Olive Mill. There were purchases in the Spice Merchants, a shop specializing in spices and teas. I picked up some exotic salts and a spice mill. Kilwin’s Chocolates was out in force on the street handing out handmade fudge samples. Yum!

My personal favorite shop was The T-Shirt Shoppe located at 107 Butler Street. Sorry there was no website that I could find, although they already have a few great reviews! The store concept is simple and the results were lovely! Purchase a high quality t-shirt, pick out one of their unique designs. They silkscreen your shirt which is ready to pick up in under an hour. Check out the little duck design Mimi is sporting!

My only regret is we weren’t able to stay longer!