Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Mother's Ovarian Cancer and Me

"And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see: or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read. " -- Alice Walker

My mother gave me a love for gardening and reading. She passed on to me the shape of her hands, her sense of humor and her strong survival instincts. I last saw my mother alive on an autumn day in 1988. Had she not opened her eyes and said, "There's my baby," I might have thought I had walked into the wrong room in the cancer ward. Only her voice was familiar to me. The disease had ravaged the rest of her and transformed her into someone I no longer recognized. When she died a few weeks later, all I knew about ovarian cancer was that it had taken, far too soon, the life of my spunky, fun-loving, 76 year-old mother and left a huge hole in my life.

After Mom's death, I began my quest to learn all I could about ovarian cancer. But for a decade I discovered very little. Only that this particular type of cancer  has a high mortality rate because it is so difficult to detect. (My mother's cancer was found in stage four; it had already metastasized to other organs.) The symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague, or non-existent. This was confirmed to me over and over again as I met and talked with women who had lost moms, sisters and friends to ovarian cancer. By the time their loved one suspected something was wrong, the cancer had already spread. 

Then something amazing happened. I met my first ovarian cancer survivor in 2002. With everything I knew, what were the chances someone had lived through it? I felt like I had won the lottery. For the next twenty minutes she described her experience. It all started when "things just didn't feel right"; stomach bloating, diarrhea and general discomfort. She knew her body, and what she felt was outside her norm. Her doctor listened to her complaints, but only at her insistence did he order the tests that confirmed she had early stage ovarian cancer. He performed a hysterectomy and she went through a round of chemo. She beat ovarian cancer with faith in God and a fierce determination to manage her own health.

Ovarian cancer research has come a long way in 23 years. We now know that the risk for developing this type of cancer increases when a close relative has had the disease. And that there is a link between ovarian and breast cancer. Because of my family history -- a mother who died of ovarian cancer and a first cousin who developed breast cancer -- I'm considered high risk. For this reason, about six years ago my gynecologist at the time recommended procedures to aid in early detection, should I develop ovarian cancer. Namely, vaginal ultrasounds and CA-125 blood tests. I took her recommendation.

Fast forward to the past nine months. New city, new doctor. I've had three abnormal tumor markers, elevated CA-125 since the first of the year. I had a follow-up vaginal ultrasound which showed no abnormality in my ovaries. At that point I had a choice to make. I could repeat the test in another three months and see if there are any changes, or I could get a second opinion now. I chose the later. 

I met last Wednesday with a gynecologist who has extensive experience with ovarian cancer. He looked over my test results, reviewed my family history and examined me. Then we sat down and had a long talk. I won't divulge the details of our conversation. I'm not a medical doctor and every situation is different. What I will tell you is that I opted to have an oophorectomy, which is just a fancy word for laparoscopic removal of ovaries. I had the surgery Friday morning, along with removal of my fallopian tubes and  an endometrial biopsy. The surgery went well and I'm home recovering. On Wednesday this week I'll get the pathology results. We are praying for and expecting good news.

So why did I write this post? Well, for one thing, to honor my mother. It's because of what she suffered that I decided to do everything necessary to protect my own health. And you know, I think she'd really be proud of me for making the decision I did. 

I also wrote this for my granddaughter. I want her to know how much I love her and her brother. They're two of the reasons I had the surgery. I want to be around to see them both grow up, and maybe marry and have children of their own. 

Finally, I wrote this for anyone who is living in fear of cancer or any other fatal disease. Please, take an active role in managing your health. Take care of yourself: eat right, exercise, don't smoke, limit alcohol, get plenty of rest. Go for regular check-ups. Talk openly and honestly with your doctor about your health concerns. If he or she makes you feel uncomfortable, find another healthcare provider. There are plenty of them out there. If you're at risk for a particular disease, find out everything you can about it. There are a number of reputable medical sites on the internet; John Hopkins, The Mayo Clinic, The Cancer Institute to name a few. As they say, Knowledge is Power.

May I offer one more piece of advice and the most important? Pray. Ask God to help you find the answers you need and give you the peace you long for. He is faithful. He will do it.

"In the day of my trouble I shall call upon You, For You will answer me." Psalm 86:7


Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Friend I Aspire to Be

"A horse is like a best friend. They're always there to nuzzle you and make your life a better place." -- Anonymous

Yesterday I looked out the kitchen window and saw some serious horseplay going on in our neighbor's corral, so I grabbed my camera to get a few photos. As I watched the mare and gelding nuzzle and nibble each other, gallop and buck, I saw more than a couple of animals messing around. I saw two best friends sharing life.

The subject of friendship is often on my mind these days. One of our best friends has been diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer. We're praying for a miracle. 

Henri J.M. Nouwen, in the The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey, writes of friendship:
"When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares."

Over the years, I've been blessed with friends like those Nouwen describes. Through their example I learned that our best friends are those who don't try to fix things when we're hurting. They simply come alongside us and share our pain. More and more, this is the friend I aspire to be.

"Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ."
Galatians 6:2


Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Divine Appointment

"Life is just too short to waste one more day driving in a direction that God doesn't want us to go."--Ron Hutchraft

Last Sunday Dennis and I drove to Allenspark for breakfast at Meadow Mountain Cafe. It's not something we had planned to do; the idea struck Dennis as we were leaving the church parking lot. But first he wanted to go home, in the opposite direction, to pick up a watercolor he had painted of The Fawnbrook Inn. He planned to give the painting to our friends Mieke and Herman, owners of the Fawnbrook in Allenspark.  Now, I have to admit that for a mili-second I thought, Why can't the painting wait until another day? I'm hungry and we're going to lose 20 minutes by going back home. However, I used restraint and kept the thought to myself. We retrieved the artwork and headed to Allenspark.

By the time we got to Meadow Mountain Cafe, the place was packed. There were no seats available, save two at a table for four where two women were already seated. The cafe being as small as it is, this is not unusual. Locals are quite accustomed to sharing their table with strangers -- we've done this ourselves, a number of times -- so we caught the womens' eyes and asked if we could join them. They welcomed us and we sat down. Within a few minutes, we learned their names -- Sue and Randi -- and discovered that Randi lived in another state and had recently been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She had come to Colorado to visit Sue in Denver and enjoy a little R&R. 

Dennis, being a cancer survivor, shared how his faith in God had helped him through his journey. Then Randi disclosed that she's a Christian and Sue chimed in that she's a Christian and, well, we  were practically having church right there in the restaurant. We prayed together, ate together, cried together and laughed together. An hour earlier we had been complete strangers.  

Does this sound odd to you? Or are you reading this and thinking to yourself, "That sort of thing has happened to me. Just when I needed encouragement (or love, or help), God sent someone my way (or sent me to someone who needed those things)." If the later is how you think, then you understand Divine Appointments. You know that there's no such thing as coincidence or karma. Good luck? Nonsense. Fortunate happenstance? Hardly. 

Randi's back home now. I got an email from her yesterday:
"I wanted to tell you how you and Dennis touched my heart and spirit last Sunday morning at the Mt. Meadow Cafe. . .Sue and I were in awe all the way to Estes, calling it a divine appointment. . .I loved sharing our stories/testimonies and hearing how the LORD is moving in your lives." 

Dennis and I echo Randi's words. What a sweet time we had with those two lovely ladies.

By the way, remember earlier I said going home took us in the opposite direction, which to me was the wrong direction? I now believe it was exactly the direction God wanted us to go.  I'll never know for sure, but I suspect the 20 minutes we spent going home to get the painting put us at the cafe at just the right time to sit with Sue and Randi. Divine Appointments are always perfectly timed.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

First Snow in Neverland

"The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?" 
-- J.B. Priestly

Snow like a billowy white comforter has covered our homestead, and fall has temporarily conceded to winter. That proclamation makes me smile, for I always said I would never again live in a cold climate. But then, I've done a lot of things I said I'd never do. Such as marrying again after my first husband died. And before that, leaving California to move back to the midwest. Silly me. Never say never. Or, as Dennis commented to me earlier this week, "Never say never. It never worked before." He's right. I once said, "I'll never live in Hawaii," hoping that by saying "never", I could manipulate the outcome in a sort of positive-negative way. It didn't work. So far I've never lived in Hawaii and I probably never will. But. . .never say never.

As it turns out, though, I'm content right here. Snow in October and all. I know in a day or two the sun will emerge in all it's glory and warmth, and the winter wonderland will melt away. In the meantime, I'm enjoying a cup of steaming java, as the pristine flakes gently fall outside. Except for the occasional whinnying of the horses, all is quiet. And I declare I've never lived in a more enchanted place.

"She is not afraid of the snow for her household, 
For all her household are clothed with scarlet."
Proverbs 31:21


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saturday in the Park with Dennis

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
~Joyce Kilmer, "Trees", 1914

I have a kind of love affair with trees. Always have. Growing up on a farm in the midwest, I cut my teeth on maple bark. Okay, not really. I probably cut my teeth on a window ledge like every other kid in my generation. But maple bark sounds more interesting, don't you think?

Dennis and I spent several hours in RMNP this morning. Between the two of us, we took over 200 photos. Not difficult to accomplish in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Photo ops abound. I particularly like to photograph golden aspen against cerulean skies, as shown in the above picture. 

Here's another favorite. Fall color with Hallett Peak in the background. . .

Will I ever tire of photographing Bear Lake? I doubt it. . .

The twin fawns that have visited the homestead all summer are nearly grown now. I caught them with my camera earlier this week. . .

Their mother can't be seen in the photo. She's farther up the hill and doesn't watch over them as closely as she did. She's done an excellent job of raising them though, ensuring they can survive without her. Soon her offspring will leave her to fend for themselves. Pretty much the way it is for a human mom, too.