A cancer story – it is Survivor’s Week at MDA

This week is “Survivor’s Week” at MD Anderson. When MDA social media asked if they could hang a banner of Rick on their skybridge, I immediately said, “yes.” There are lots of smiling faces hanging from banners there this week. Yesterday, I had to see Rick’s banner in person to see if it was real. He is located about halfway down the skybridge. Little did social media know the significance of the request and our connection with the skybridge.

Katie, our number one daughter who works at the Houston Zoo, met me for lunch to celebrate at the Rotary House restaurant. I wanted to introduce her to a spot her dad and I have hung out at for a good meal during our many MDA visits.

Many of our family members have been so helpful and supportive through this journey. But Katie has been my rock, actually more like a boulder, for so much of the journey from initial appointments, to surgery day, spending the night with her dad in the hospital, and walking last year’s MDA Boot Walk. Unfortunately, cancer affects not just the patient but family members, friends and co-workers. Rick has been blessed with support from too many to count.

It was over two years ago Rick was diagnosed with Stage IV Kidney Cancer at MDA. There have been plenty of opportunities for us to travel across their skybridge, which connects their main building with the buildings across the street. We spend most of our time at the May’s Clinic but frequent the Main Building for testing and other doctor visits. I can’t recall the exact number of steps over the skybridge, but it is quite a hike.

In the beginning of his cancer journey, I pushed Rick in one of MDA’s many available wheelchairs across the skybridge. After he was accepted into an immunotherapy clinical trial, Rick started receiving immunotherapy infusions. I think it was after the third infusion about six weeks later, we rode the oversized golf cart from one side to the other. Rick walked the rest of the way holding onto my arm to testing appointments. Did you know MDA provides golf cart rides back and forth over the skybridge all day long to those that can’t walk it?

Fast forward a tad. It wasn’t long until we were actually walking it together … slowly at first. Then last year, about this very time, we noticed the banners on the skybridge.

“You know … someday your picture is going to be hanging up there don’t you?” I said.

I like to think Rick, and all the others hanging out on the skybridge this week, are there to put a face on cancer and that cures are indeed possible.

A cancer journey – kidney removal surgery

It has been a week since Rick’s left kidney/tumor was removed. Whoever said it “takes a village to raise a child” musta also been talking about someone having major surgery. Throw our special needs daughter into the mix and the village quickly became a small metropolis. Our son, Ricky, and lovely daughter-in-law, Kate, flew in from Washington, DC. Our daughter, Katie, along with son-in-law, Chad, and even grandson, Jake was also there to help. We thought we had all our ducks in a row with our dream team in place! After all, hubby was only going to be in the hospital two to three days tops.

A day before surgery, my friend, Mary, stopped by with fruit and sandwich trays with a card signed by so many people with special needs connections. There was also homemade brownies from Sandy, and macaroni salad from Jan. I gotta get that recipe! How did they know I hadn’t thought about feeding the dream team?

On the morning of the surgery, Katie surprised her dad in the surgery waiting room with a visit from Jake. It was magical watching Jake run toward Rick yelling “Pop-Pop.” Nothing like your favorite two-year-old crawling in your lap to lessen the tension. We didn’t know it at the time, but surgery day would be twelve long hours until Rick finally made it into his hospital room for the night. We were updated so much along the way from meetings in pre-op, to surgery updates every two hours, and finally visiting in recovery. When we met with Dr. Karam, the kidney surgeon, after surgery we learned the kidney/tumor removed was the size of a cantaloupe. I will never forgot how he held his hands up to represent the size of the tumor/kidney. Everything went as planned!

In a vague peanut shell … the details you don’t want to know … the hospital stay lasted five days and nights with lots of walking the halls trying to get his gut to wake up. Seems thirty percent of patients have this challenge after surgery and we just had to wait. Someone spent each day and night at the hospital. It was a regular relay team. I only had plans in place for people staying three nights. I took one night and Ricky stayed two. When things dragged on through the weekend, I called his brother, Gary. Our Katie also spent a night. The nights were especially challenging. At MDA they wake you up at night for something every couple of hours. I got the feeling sleep isn’t a priority at MD Anderson. Getting well is!

I think it was on day two that Katie, Jake and Chad paid a visit to Rick’s hospital room. Jake was bringing Pop-Pop a stuffed purple “kidney” pillow. The plan was for Jake to enter the room and say, “Pop-Pop I think you dropped something,” and then hand him the kidney pillow. I think he only got the words, “Pop-Pop” out but you get the picture!

Sometime during day four, the nurse said I had to watch an instructional video to learn how to give Heparin injections. Yep … I would be giving Rick injections three times a day for 28 days. Lucky me! After the video the nurse had me practice on Rick. Good thing the needle was small … very small. I can do this … but I will be glad when we are finished!

We are now in recovery mode at the house, getting lots of sleep, and better every day. When Ricky and Kate boarded the plane for home, Rick’s awesome big sister, Bonnie, came to stay for a couple of weeks and we are tag teaming nicely!

Things I have learned … my neighbor, Marie, makes the best soup and decorated “happy face sun” sugar cookies! She always me smile! I learned that when someone sends you an email asking how they can help, you write them back. I asked for help bathing Mimi … and then they also brought Mimi and I holy communion and homemade cookies and muffins. I am so blessed. I also learned that sometimes people know exactly what you need without asking. And I learned the reason I never considered becoming a nurse … giving injections!